I pulled a prank on a coworker — and it ended badly

A reader writes:

I’m in a bit of a sticky situation. I played a prank on an employee — locked him on the balcony during office hours. It was a few minutes before a company function with clients at the office. He got out a few minutes later, grabbed me by my arm hard, and yanked me away from a conversation with a coworker in a room of clients. He said that if I ever did something like that to him again, he would hurt me (but in colourful language) and it was in a hushed tone so that no one would overhear. But he was angry.

I had thought he’d just laugh at it and maybe get me back with a different prank. But he was livid and threatened me with physical violence.

He sits behind me and sometimes we joke around verbally. I don’t know him that well because he’s a newer employee (he’s been here for a little over a year), but I pulled the prank because another coworker (who he’s known for many years) was laughing along with me. So I figured he’d just laugh it off. But she hadn’t realized that I locked the door and later mentioned that she would have told me not to lock the door.

I don’t want to diminish the error I made – I recognize it. But I really don’t know what to do or how to interpret it and I don’t want to bring it to my manager. If I bring it to my manager, I’m afraid that I will look like a problem-maker, a politics-playing person, or a revenge employee (tattle-tale) because I did play the prank and in retrospect, I shouldn’t have done it. But at the same time, his reaction was unexpected and I don’t know how to gauge whether it was said on the spur of the moment emotional anger or out of seriousness. He hasn’t brought up the issue so far. What should I do?


He really overreacted, but you probably crossed a bit of a line. At least with him — part of the trickiness of pranks at the office is that you really, really need to know your target and whether they’re likely to find something funny. Some people would find this funny — and others would not react at all well to being locked out on a balcony just minutes before a function with clients were to start. (And in fairness to him, for all you know, maybe he’s been reprimanded before about not being sufficiently prepared for client functions, and you ate into the time he’d set aside to prepare. Or not. But who knows.)

In any case, the right move here is to apologize to him, sincerely. Go talk to him and tell him that you’re genuinely sorry for it, that you intended for him to find it funny but understand that he didn’t, and that you take responsibility for that. Tell him it won’t happen again. And don’t say anything like “I’m sorry it upset you” — that’s a qualified apology, when what’s really called for is “I’m sorry that I did it.”

If you sound sincere and he’s reasonable, that should smooth it over. Of course, he might not be reasonable, but you can’t control his reaction — you can only control your part of it, but apologizing is the right thing to do.

And yes, he shouldn’t have grabbed you or threatened you with physical violence. That escalated things, and it’s inappropriate for the workplace. But because you made the initial error here, make the first move to rectify the situation.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 674 comments… read them below }

  1. My 2 Cents*

    I am VERY afraid of heights, and I can see myself overreacting in that situation if I was trapped on the balcony. If I needed off that balcony immediately because of my fear only to find it locked, and locked because of a practical joke, I’d be in a terrible rage. I also think I would be justified in my rage because I am not rational when I am that panicked and that’s the risk the person runs by playing a joke, they sometimes backfire.

    1. The Real Ash*

      To me there’s a difference between being angry in the situation, and physically touching someone, dragging them bodily around, and then threatening to assault them. One of them can be legitimate, the other is not.

      1. My 2 Cents*

        The OP was only in that situation because they did something on purpose that triggered that response. It may not have been a great response, but that is how the person reacts to perceived threats, which is why you always have to be VERY careful when doing something like this, you create a situation that may end up tragically.

        1. TL*

          Uh, being irrationally afraid does not justify physical violence (or the threat of it.)

          It does justify you not finding it funny and probably getting angrier than the next guy (and making it very, very clear that it should never happen again), but it does not justify anything else.

          1. Student*

            If the OP had done that to my mother, who is extremely afraid of heights, it would cause her heart problems and potentially kill her. I really wish I was exaggerating, but I am not. She has had serious episodes, and she can’t bear to be within line-of-sight of a high balcony.

            I don’t think you understand phobias, or how serious they are for some people. Getting locked up someplace is also a common phobia that could be triggered by something like this.

            I also think an over-reaction like this might be an anti-bully strategy on the part of the prank-victim employee. I over-react when someone does certain things that I will not tolerate to immediately and thoroughly discourage it from ever happening again.

            1. My 2 Cents*

              Thank you, this is 100% what I am trying to get at. Obviously the person doesn’t understand true phobias because they keep saying that a rational person wouldn’t resort to physical harm. When you have a phobia reaction, you AREN’T a rational person, you are reacting to an extreme situation, and one in which you thought your life was in danger. When you life is in danger, you will react without regard to the well being of others, which is what this person did, justifiably or not.

              And then my larger point is: It’s not important if it’s justifiable or not, the OP created this situation and the pranked reacted how they react, the OP doesn’t get to say they overreacted because that’s not a decision they get to make, the OP has to deal with the consequences of their action, however badly it ends up.

              1. Sanonymous*

                I think it’s a good point that the reaction could be part of a phobia. That being said, I really can’t see someone with a phobia of heights (or what have you) venturing out there right before a meeting.

                1. Cath in Canada*

                  I’m not overly afraid of heights, but I am mildly phobic about not having a clear exit – I feel really uncomfortable if I’m in a meeting with lots of people between me and the door, and don’t even get me started on the middle seats on long flights. So I’m someone who could go out onto a balcony without triggering a phobia, but whose phobia *would* get triggered by the locked door. I still wouldn’t threaten violence, but just wanted to chime in that it wasn’t necessarily a height-related phobia.

              2. SRMJ*

                So you’re saying getting physical and threatening the OP was an acceptable response, because the OP made a poor, spur-of-the-moment, non-malicious decision, and should be expected to just…accept any response as deserved?

                Maybe the coworker’s feelings weren’t an overreaction, but his actions were, and saying that responding by grabbing the OP and jerking them away and threatening them with violence was an overreaction is completely reasonable for the OP to say.

                1. My 2 Cents*

                  Yes, because as I’ve said, you (the prankster) doesn’t get to decide how the prankee responds, it’s as simple as that, and you don’t get to be mad about how someone responds when you created the situation.

                2. SRMJ*

                  You don’t get to decide how they respond, yes. Or how they feel. What if the pranked had flown into a serious rage and punched the OP in the face or thrown him into a wall? Or thrown him off the balcony? Would the OP be mad then, or is that also something they should just accept, according to you?

                  The OP absolutely gets to be mad/alarmed/whatever that the pranked threatened them with violence and put his hands on the OP’s body. It’s completely unacceptable. Your logic is ridiculous.

                3. TL*

                  @My 2 cents: Being afraid, even phobically afraid, does not justify a violent response. Or threats of violence. I would absolutely get to be mad if I played a prank like this (I wouldn’t) and someone responded by manhandling me. Violent responses are not justified by anger or fear.

                  I understand phobias can induce irrational responses but that does not justify the behaviors taken during the response. If you find yourself violent when in the throes of a phobic response, that’s something you need to take care of via therapy or something.

                  (And these kinds of pranks aren’t funny, and I would totally have been behind the coworker calmly but firmly asking to see Prankster right now, in the middle of the meeting, and making it crystal clear that the behavior was unacceptable, unprofessional, and never to be repeated. The manhandling and threats of violence, however, are not okay.)

                4. Arbynka*

                  I don’t know about the non-malicious part. It is very suspect to me, as other pointed out below, that OP locked co-worker on the balcony before a client meeting to which OP, unlike co-worker, made it on time. And it does not sound like OP was the one to let co-worker back out either. To me this sound a bit more than just an innocent prank. Should co-worker touch and threathened OP, nope he should not.

                5. Jamie*


                  Being afraid, even phobically afraid, does not justify a violent response. Or threats of violence.

                  This. If someone’s phobia is such that they feel justified in threatening violence and putting their hands on someone then they need to control their exposure to their phobias or warn people that they may become violent.

                  I would think a phobia that extreme would dictate they wouldn’t have been on the balcony to begin with.

                  And I’m not sure why this leap to phobias – sure it’s one possible explanation for the over reaction, but we have no evidence it was even the case. He could have overreacted just as easily because he felt he was being made a fool of at work and it enraged him.

                6. Zillah*

                  I kind of don’t see how whether it was malicious or not matters?

                  If someone does something that I find deeply threatening or hurtful, in a lot of ways – especially immediately after the incident – I don’t care whether their actions were malicious or just clueless. I care that they hurt my feelings or threatened me, you know?

                7. fposte*

                  @Jamie–I think the phobia thing is a bit of a red herring myself, but I don’t generally avoid places because they might trigger my phobias–that’s how you make phobias worse.

                  However, I also haven’t found a phobia to require me to lay hands in anger on anybody after the attack, and I think the OP’s coworker should have kept his hands to himself. (I probably wouldn’t push the issue about the words he uttered, given that “I didn’t mean it the way it was taken” seems to be already on the table for the OP and would just get bounced back from his co-worker.)

                8. Jamie*


                  I kind of don’t see how whether it was malicious or not matters?

                  I think intent always matters. It doesn’t mean that something didn’t cause harm, of course we can unintentionally hurt each other without meaning to and that doesn’t give us a pass from apologizing and trying to make it right. But I’ve never understood how intent wouldn’t matter in most areas.

                  If my co-worker steps on my foot and breaks my toe my toe is broken. But if it was an accident and he’s sorry that’s a wildly different scenario than if he stomped on my foot on purpose with the intent to hurt me.

                  A co-worker breaks my car window by accident because he was loading a bulky item into his car and it got away from him is not in the same universe as a coworker deliberately busting it out because he didn’t like the results of his audit.

                  In both cases the first scenarios are accidents that sometimes happen and in the second the person is scary and should be fired and charges files. Damage is the same in both – but intent is everything.

                  And that doesn’t absolve one of the responsibility. Accident or not I’d expect my window fixed properly at no cost to me and I’d expect the toe breaker to…I don’t know…feel really bad and to save me one trip to the kitchen to get coffee per day until I’m off the crutches.

                  Even the law recognizes the differences between murder and manslaughter (and the levels of each) because intent matters even though it doesn’t change the end result.

                  So yes, I see someone who hurt or bothered someone with a joke as very different than someone who did it maliciously. It doesn’t absolve them of responsibility – but painting someone with playful, but misguided motives with the same brush as someone who would maliciously and deliberately set out to harm someone else doesn’t make sense to me.

                9. Jazzy Red*

                  “So you’re saying getting physical and threatening the OP was an acceptable response…”


                  I might be the only person to feel this way, but I think the OP was asking for it. I’m one who does not like pratical jokes or pranks, so I didn’t find them funny. A lot of people don’t, you know. And the OP obviously didn’t know this guy well enough to gauge how he would react.

                  Save the juvenile antics for after work hours.

                10. BCW*

                  @Jazzy Red, I want you to think about what you are saying, because its a slippery slope. If a woman says something to her boyfriend he doesn’t like, is she asking for it if he beats her?

              3. Canadamber*

                …No. No. Not at all.

                Here are some scenarios that I saw related down-thread:

                – I cut someone off in traffic, and freak them out to the point of them having a mini heart attack. Are they justified in catching up to me at the next stop light and smashing my windshield in?

                – I say something to my boyfriend that he doesn’t like. Is he justified in beating me?

                I think that the coworker would be justified in overreacting if the OP, say, dangled him off of the balcony and then laughed at him and teased him, or something like that. But none of that happened.

                Look, I have an irrational fear of loud noises. Don’t know why, don’t know how, but I do. Am I justified in ANY of these scenarios?

                My friend sits in the car while I put gasoline in. I leave the keys in the ignition, and she turns the radio up really loud and with a LOT of bass while I’m inside the store paying for it, and then she turns it off. When I get into the car, I wonder why the radio is off, but don’t think anything of it and turn it on. I am then completely caught off-guard by the loud sounds. Would I be justified in punching her out, or snapping, “You ever do this again, I will KILL you!!!”?

                My boyfriend decides to freak me out by dropping a heavy book on the table next to me as I’m sitting and using the computer. It makes a very loud sound, and I freak out. But would it be permissible/okay for me to swing my fist into his crotch, or to threaten him with some sort of other physical violence?

                Say my sister decides to pull a prank on me that involves scaring me with loud noise. Should I be allowed to barge into her room and start destroying her things in a fit of panic?

                Honestly… the answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO. If you’re freaked out, don’t go and threaten the other person! That isn’t okay. Seriously, I have irrational fears, too. EVERYBODY has irrational fears. But, honestly, anything could trigger your fear at any time, pretty much, and if you react by getting violent, that’s really not okay!!!

            2. The Real Ash*

              We have no proof that there are any phobias involved. People are trying to make excuses to justify the co-worker’s gigantic overreaction.

              1. Jeff A.*

                While others seem to be working pretty hard to justify the OP’s gigantic lapse in judgment.

                Alison’s response seems right. Mistake #2 follows from Mistake #1. Apology #1 should be issued, hopefully followed by Apology #2.

                1. Jamie*

                  I don’t see that happening at all.

                  People seem pretty united in the fact that the OP didn’t use good judgement – the OP even admits that in the letter so there is no point to argue on that front.

                  You can acknowledge that the original act was jerky without condoning the response.

                  A more extreme example – if I cut someone off in traffic because I’m driving like a lunatic I’m a menace and acting like a total jerk. People have every right to be furious with me. But they don’t have the right smash my windshield with their tire iron at the next light because of that.

                  Someone else acting badly doesn’t absolve any of us of the responsibility of controlling our own actions.

                2. fposte*

                  Yes, if the coworker had written in, I’d definitely tell him that he should apologize to the OP, without waiting for her apology first.

                  But since it’s the OP who wrote in, I’m focusing on what she should do, and she also should apologize, without waiting for his apology first.

              2. Bea W*

                I don’t see people trying to justify it, but more trying to explain possible theories why someone would react that way and not really be a huge turd for doing so. He could be a huge turd. We don’t know. I think people are trying to explain to the “He’s a huge turd” folks (if there are any) that they are also making that judgement on not enough information and it could be X, Y, or Z. The point is, we don’t know.

            3. Bea W*

              i’ve seen people afraid of heights get 2 feet off the ground and go into horrible panic and all the physical responses that come with that. Someone with a cardiac issue could easily be in big trouble or someone could just pass out and whack themselves hard going down. It doesn’t matter that the fear is “irrational”. The body does not know the difference.

            4. TL*

              I don’t have a phobia but I get irrationally angry when people manhandle me. I mean, rage-filled, want to be violent kind of angry.
              I still use my words – not to threaten but to let them know their behavior is inappropriate and they need to stop and never touch me again. And then saying I’ll escalate if necessary, by talking to the appropriate authorities or whatever.

          2. glennis*

            It doesn’t justify it, but it certainly may motivate it. That’s why people should think twice before doing something like this. It’s appropriate for the OP to apologize.

      2. Bea W*

        It’s a bad way to react and not right to threaten someone but if a person is in an all out panic, they will not be thinking straight and are more likely to do something totally out of the ordinary or extreme. I don’t know if that was the case here, just pointing out the possibility.

        1. fposte*

          I’d be more forgiving if it were in the throes of the panic (out on the balcony itself), but once you’re out of the situation, have pulled yourself together enough to join a meeting with clients, and have enough control to hiss under your breath, that’s a pretty conscious situation.

          1. Bea W*

            True – having re-read to see what the guy actually did vs other people’s experiences, the reaction was delayed until he was out of the meeting, which indicates some pretty good control over it. :-/

            1. Dani X*

              I just reread the OP to be sure but it sounds like the guy got out of the balcony, came up to the OP and dragged him away and hissed his threats at him. So he was no longer in immediate danger (not on balcony) but it wasn’t after the meeting either – it was pretty much right after he got out of the situation.

      3. fposte*

        I’m dubious that the OP was dragged bodily around, though. I even question the literalness of “yanked,” because even that would be pretty likely to raise the alarm of the clients. I suspect that the co-worker put a firm hold on the OP’s arm and began to move away without letting go, and the OP went rather than publicly fight. I don’t think the co-worker should have done that, but it’s not dragging somebody, either.

        1. Bea W*

          Yes I wasn’t sure if it was a literal or a figurative yank as in “My boss yanked me aside…”

    2. Anonymous*

      I’m not afraid of heights, and I think rage is justifiable (but not threats). Maybe I can’t take a joke, but I don’t see what’s funny about this. It was an annoying, elementary school bully sort of thing to do at best.

      1. Anna*

        Yeah, it was elementary, but since when has it ever been acceptable to react to juvenile pranks with touching someone and threatening with violence?

  2. The Real Ash*

    I might be in the minority here (as a prank-puller myself), but I think that your co-worker’s reaction was so disproportionate to the prank that you should report the threats to your boss. If you had done something that had endangered his health and safety in some way, then I would say that his reaction wasn’t out of line. But a harmless prank (getting locked on a balcony for a few minutes in what I assume wasn’t inclement weather like a thunderstorm or a blizzard) does not in any way excuse or warrant angry, aggressive threats and him physically touching you at all. Telling your boss about physical threats isn’t tattling, tattling is—for example—when you want to tell your company that your friend worked on a novel during work hours so they can take her money (*ahem*).

    In the future, be civil to this in any interaction you have to have with them during work hours and completely avoid them as much as possible otherwise. They sound like not only an unfunny person, but someone who easily overreacts and is possibly a basketcase.

    1. Except in California*

      I strongly disagree. A sincere apology is one of only two ways out here. A new job is the other way.

      This is kind of a good life lesson about letting yourself get caught up in the moment/egged on by others.

      My coworkers pulled a funny on me, they hid my jacket. My car keys were in it. I had to leave early for an appointment. I looked right at them and said, fine keep my jackets boys if you need to play dress-up, but I will need my keys. Now. They got the point. They collectively thought it would be funny, but to me it was simply annoying and disruptive to my schedule.

      1. Katie*

        This is completely off-topic, but Except in California, I love your handle. Pretty much sums up all the labor law I’ve ever learned.

        1. Dan*

          aka: If you’re going to be a working stiff, be a working stiff in California. Overtime after 8 hours in a day, and double time after 12. God I loved that place…

        2. Except in California*

          Haha! Now if you can see your way to being a die-hard Seahawks 12th man, we can be BFFs.

      1. Tara B.*


        I have a great sense of humor, but I would not look kindly on pranks in the office. I come to work to work, not to play. You want to make me laugh in the office, tell me a nice, clean, politically correct joke instead.

        1. Bryan*

          I have a great sense of humor and some mild pranks I find hilarious. But I’m also able to laugh at myself. What part of I locked someone on a balcony is funny?

        1. LBK*

          I suppose it depends what you consider a sense of humor. Some people seem to only take that to mean “puts up with offensive/annoying behavior that’s intended to be funny,” which is not a definition I accept.

          1. The Real Ash*

            What a reasonable and measured response. Don’t agree with what I’m saying? Say how you’d like to delight in my (possible) torment.

            1. TychaBrahe*

              But you’re the one claiming that this isn’t a torment, it’s funny. You can’t get upset about being the butt of something that is supposedly a joke if you’re the one that says we have to take it as a joke.

              1. The Real Ash*

                Please point out where I said it wasn’t a torment, or where I specifically said this was funny. You can’t because I didn’t. I also never said anyone has to take this as a joke. You’re reading a lot of things into my posts that aren’t there.

              1. Anna*

                Tragedy is when it happens to you. Comedy is when it happens to someone else. Mel Brooks (I think).

        2. Aisling*

          In order for something to actually be funny, all parties must be laughing. If only one of you is laughing, you’ve misjudged the joke/prank.

      2. Anonymous*

        +1. I’m fine with pranks and jokes. I’m not cool with random bullying and mean bullshit that we’re supposed to call pranks because the person doing it is laughing.

      3. Blue Anne*

        Amen. If you make a joke or pull a prank and you’re the only one laughing, you need to re-assess your sense of humor, not blame the other people for being “unfunny”.

    2. SRMJ*

      I agree. It would be one thing if he did that and then came and apologized, maybe adding he had a fear of heights, but for someone to fly off the handle to that degree in response would alarm me. I second the course of action proposed here – be civil and avoid as much as possible.

      Something marginally similar happened to me; I misheard what someone said and did something he didn’t like (not to him/his person directly…I shut a door he actually wanted open), and he responded in such an angry, aggressive way (no touching though, or threats), so out of proportion to what I’d done that I’ve avoided him as much as I can ever since. I absolutely do not trust people who are that temperamental and get so angry, especially when they don’t apologize for it.

      1. SRMJ*

        Not to suggest the initial prank was a great idea/not worth apologizing for. But in regard to his response specifically, I’d be freaked out too. Is the LW a woman? If so, rough handling and threats against her are possibly even more worrisome – most men know that behavior like that towards women is received with much more concern and alarm than when it’s towards men, and he either was so angry he couldn’t control himself, or he thought his response was justified. Alarming either way, though.

          1. some1*

            We don’t know if the LW is a man, but LW did say s/he pulled the prank because a female coworker was laughing along. I’m a woman and don’t usually specify that that someone else is a woman.

            If the LW is a man and he did that to make the female coworker laugh, that was pretty jr. high cruel of him.

            1. SRMJ*

              Well, the OP just referred to the other coworker with female pronouns, didn’t actually say ‘my lady-coworker’ or anything. When I first read it, I thought the OP was a woman, but now I have no idea.

              I think OP mentioning the other coworker laughing meant that the OP took it as an indication that it was all in the proverbial ‘good fun,’ and the OP was assuming the pranked coworker also felt like everyone was just joking around (obviously, s/he was mistaken).

    3. some1*

      It’s not a “harmless prank” to people who have claustrophobia or a fear of heights.

      My friend was sitting on a 1.5 story balcony 13 years ago. The balcony collapsed beneath and she had a serious injury. She was afraid to go on balconies for years afterward.

    4. Bryan*

      This isn’t an unfunny person. It’s a bad prank in that its just mean. A prank should involve everyone thinking it was funny. I’m not sure who would go, haha you locked me out on a balcony, that’s a good one.

      They were locked out on a balcony not knowing when someone would come by to let them back inside. The perception of time differs depending on the situation and being locked out on a balcony would make minutes feel like forever. Like waiting for a train, being at a red light, or being in line at a store.

      1. Bryan*

        I’d also like to add that the coworkers response was too much however the way to solve it is to not mess with them again. The op created their own situation.

      2. some1*

        “They were locked out on a balcony not knowing when someone would come by to let them back inside. The perception of time differs depending on the situation and being locked out on a balcony would make minutes feel like forever.”

        This. I was stuck in an elevator by myself once and it felt like forever. And as a child, I was at my school for my brother’s basketball game. I got bored and went to see if the game room was open. It was but the door swung shut & locked behind me and I started bawling because I didn’t know when my parents would notice I was gone and start looking for me. I can still remember that panic 25 years later.

      3. Jeff A.*

        100% agreed. The OP’s prank was made in poor judgment, much like the response of the individual locked on the balcony. Apologize for crossing a line, and hope that he does the same.

      4. TL*

        Eh, I would probably find being locked on a balcony mildly amusing or mildly irritating.
        My suitemates locked me in the bathroom once, though, after about 2 seconds I told them it wasn’t funny and they needed to open the door right then or I would go out the window. I was not amused. Depends on the person.

        1. TychaBrahe*

          I was once locked in a bathroom by a faulty door. I didn’t worry. My father was due home in a few hours, I had two books and water. I put a towel on the floor and read for a while, then took a nap.

          I didn’t have a client event to go to.

          1. TL*

            Yup. Different stuff bothers different people.

            The client event would have made me more upset, though if I was out in a few minutes, I probably just would’ve rolled my eyes and had a serious conversation about appropriate behaviors in the workplace.

      5. Nina*

        Plus, he was locked out right before a company function, which added stress to the situation because if this hadn’t been a prank, his coworkers and supervisors would be wondering where he had gone and possibly think that he was ditching the event. He could have gotten into some serious trouble. It wasn’t like the guy was heading home for the day and had time to spare.

    5. FiveNine*

      Disagree. OP behaved highly unprofessionally (who locks out a coworker on a balcony before a meeting — or hell, why would the employer think OP wouldn’t do the same to a client?). OP is in no way in the clear and as likely to be reprimanded, up to and including dismissal in some workplaces.

      1. Purple Dragon*

        They’d both be fired where I work. We have a zero tolerance policy on pranks and threats/violence.

        I’m appreciating that policy right about now !

        1. Jessa*

          I’m really kind of sick to death of policies that punish victims. I get that maybe the victim overreacted (but we don’t know their medical/mental state.) But seriously. The person who pulls pranks at work should be in serious trouble. The other person should be counselled not to react that way. As the reaction would never have occurred if the bully had not done what they’d done. And yes I’m overreacting myself. But to me ANY prank is pure bullying and has ZERO space especially in an office. The people who know me know not to do this kind of thing. I don’t do April Fool, I don’t believe in ANY joke against another person for any reason. And yes I was abused as a kid by an adult, where whenever I started to cry about something they did to me was told “Just kidding.” And that was supposed to make it fine because well if you’re kidding/pranking you’re not HURTING anyone.

          You don’t DO that at work for any reason. Even if you’re 100% sure that the person does not mind. Work is for working and you might not trigger the person you pranked, but you might the person seeing you do it. I’d never trust a person like that again. And that would possibly hurt my work product. Seriously, if I’d worked there and heard that this was done to someone and the person who did it was not seriously reprimanded, I’d be looking for a new job because I couldn’t trust management to protect me in the future.

          1. VintageLydia USA*

            I mean, pranks like covering someone’s desk with post it notes or hiding a computer mouse or something is one thing IF you know the recipient’s sense of humor AND that they’ll think it’s funny. Those are pranks.
            Locking someone out on a balcony right before a client meeting so the victim could possibly get into a trouble? Not a prank.

          2. Anna*

            Unfortunately in this situation there is no clear “victim”. Once the co-worker put his hands on the OP and threatened him with violence, he has become a perpetrator. It’s not so cut and dried.

            Not every prank is bullying. To couch it in those terms is an overreaction and detracts from the rest of your point, which I now see is also a bit of an overreaction.

    6. belle*

      I would like to know how the coworker eventually got back in… I’m sure that process aggravated him even more.

    7. amaranth16*

      I strongly disagree. It was wildly unprofessional for the OP to do this, particularly immediately before a client meeting. I don’t think the OP’s reaction was admirable, but I also don’t think it was surprising or disproportionate. The OP didn’t know if the prank victim had a fear of height or, to Alison’s point, if he needed to prep for this meeting. Under those circumstances I think the prank victim’s rage is unfortunate but understandable.

      1. amaranth16*

        Oops- that should say “I don’t think the prank victim’s reaction was admirable”

    8. Jeff A.*

      I think our disagreement over whether this is an appropriate or inappropriate prank, and whether the reaction to the prank was “so disproportionate” or unfortunate but understandable demonstrates why pranks — and especially pranks that involve placing someone in a situation that is physically beyond their control — should be avoided in the workplace.

      Putting someone in a situation where they feel trapped or physically confined is a prank in pretty poor taste. If you don’t know your coworker well enough to anticipate this type of reaction, maybe it’s time to retire the prankster persona.

      1. amaranth16*

        Agree. If you’re in a position where one side is saying “this is fun for me” and the other side is saying “this hurts me,” I know where I’m coming down. And if that makes me a killjoy, I’m not going to lose any sleep over that.

    9. BCW*

      I’m REALLY torn on this one. In a lot of ways, I agree with you. The reaction was so disproportionate to the action that the person seems like someone I would probably avoid after. At the same time things depend on the circumstance. I once was at a bachelor party, and got pranked. Normally I can take a good joke as much as the next guy. But this happened when I had already had a bit too much fun and was feeling awful. I flew off the handle in a way I never do. Granted, this wasn’t at work, but at the time, I reacted without thinking. So it happens. I’d just see what future interactions look like. Maybe the person is over it and they are all good now.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Yes. This was the point I thought of. Sometimes someone might react to a prank differently because of whatever might be going on in their life that we don’t know about. I once was on holiday with friends and Wakeen waited until Jane got in the shower and called her mobile phone from his so she’d come running out. What Wakeen didn’t know is that one of Jane’s relatives was quite ill and she thought the call was bad news about that person, meaning she took his joke worse than she would have otherwise.

    10. Grace*

      Me thinks that any boss worth their salt wouldn’t take kindly to an employee who instigated a workplace problem via their unprofessional “prank” (locking a coworker out on a balcony) turning around and playing the aggrieved victim.

  3. Katie the Fed*

    Understand that you might have triggered some kind of flight-or-fight panic in him – could have been claustrophobia or fear or heights or something. That’s a scary situation for some people to be in. Finding your stapler in jello is one thing. Getting locked on a balcony is another. So it’s hard for an outsider to determine whether he overreacted – we don’t know what his issues and fears are.

    Agreed that you should go ap0logize sincerely to him and try to patch it up.

    1. Bryan*

      I’m terrified of being trapped anywhere. I would be hella pissed.

      The coworker’s response was way too much but they would have never reacted that way if you didn’t do it. Just don’t do this or any other prank to them again. Not really a hard thing to give up in an office.

    2. Chinook*

      Depending on how high up the balcony was and how stressed I was already for the function, that prank would have put me in tears with the shakes. The fact that he came to you immediately and overreacted tells me that this was an gut reaction and he needs an apology. Now, if he had confronted you the same way and hour later, then you would have reason to be worried as his body had time to calm down yet he was showing signs of stewing.

    3. wanderlust*

      Just out of curiosity… why would Coworker be on a balcony at work if he was afraid of heights? Unless OP lured him out there (which would be weird, and hopefully his good friend would have said, “Coworker is deathly afraid of heights”), I can’t think of a reason why he would be out there if he had a heights/claustrophobia issue. I am not a prank-friendly person either and would have been seriously annoyed if this happened to me, but I am not sure the heights thing holds much water in this example. Unless the office has, like, a rooftop garden that he was mandated to water.

      1. TL*

        Some people are fine right up until they’re not. I’m fine being in closed places as long as I can get out – so being a small room isn’t a problem, but being in a small room with no windows and a door I can’t unlock is a problem. It would not, however, occur to me to go into a closet because someone might lock me in.

        1. TL*

          It would not occur to me not to go into a closet because someone might lock me in. I use them all the time, no problem.

      2. Arbynka*

        My mom is afraid of heights, but she is able to step on the balcony or quickly peek over the edge of tall building, etc. So while she would be ok to go on the balcony, if locked there, things would escalate rather quickly.

        1. Mel*

          I’m not afraid of heights, but I have a phobia of pigeons. I have no problem being out on a balcony for a few minutes, but if a pigeon then came along and I had no way to go back indoors? And if I f0und out someone thought this was funny? I am not sure what I’d do, but I would not have a rational reaction (though it would still be non-violent). OP you owe your coworker a sincere apology and hopefully they will realize they overreacted by threatening you.

      3. Payroll Lady*

        I am seriously afraid of heights and claustrophobic. We have a large balcony/deck where we can have lunch, or smoke a quick cigarette. I’m fine when I go out there as long as I stay in the middle of the deck or lean against the wall. If I were to get locked out there, it would be very bad. I would be beyond hysterical and would lash out at who had done it. That is how strong my fear is.

      4. wanderlust*

        Those examples make a little more sense. The closet thing definitely makes sense… to me, I just wouldn’t think that a person with fear of heights would voluntarily place themselves on a balcony (I’m envisioning like a Juliet balcony that isn’t very big). I suppose if they needed a place to smoke, that would make sense.

        1. Laura*

          I’m not afraid of heights, but I have a strange fear of being locked anywhere and not being able to get out. So I’d be freaking out in that situation. I’d also probably react unprofessionally/inappropriately if someone put me in that situation. I’m not claustrophobic either, but being stuck in an elevator freaks me out because of the trapped aspect

          1. TL*

            I got stuck in an elevator once and it was definitely an exercise in keeping my cool. Luckily, my then-boss was the most chill person I’ve ever met, and his completely calm response kept me from freaking out.

          2. Zillah*

            Ditto. I’m fine with heights, but feeling trapped is something else entirely. Locking me in somewhere would definitely trigger a pretty hysterical reaction in me, and especially if it was right before an important meeting, I’d be absolutely furious.

            1. Jessa*

              This. You might be nervous on a balcony but as long as you can get back you’re fine. Locking people places can be a HUGE issue for people. Even ones that never had phobias before. It can be very scary to be trapped somewhere. Add in even a mild phobia, a worry about this meeting (as someone else said if you’re on a PIP for meeting issues, you’re terrified now.) I can stand a lot of things if I know I have an escape route. I have friends with PTSD who are the same. Dark room, no problem, balcony, no problem, exit blocked/locked, etc. flashbacks, screaming problems.

      5. Cath in Canada*

        As I said upthread, I’m not afraid of heights, but I am mildly phobic of not having a clear exit. So I could go out on a balcony no problem at all, but if someone locked the door and I couldn’t escape? I’d be freaking out, banging on the door, yelling…

      6. Anna*

        Yeah, excellent point. The fact that it was right before a client meeting adds another component. If you’re fine right up until you’re not, why risk that happening right before an important meeting? I’m not defending the OP. Bad choice made, but I would be seriously sketched out by the co-worker now. I would apologize to this guy, but I know I would have a hard time trusting him not to freak the hell out in the future.

  4. hildi*

    I don’t know – if he’s the type of person that was pretty reasonble before this and since this, then I’d not be too worried about him being a raging dangerous person going forward.

    Frankly, I can see myself getting angry at being the butt of that prank because I would feel quite demeaned by it. That’s a prank kids play on each other – not professionals. Emotions expressed in the heat of the moment probably seem out of proportion to the event, but not to the person that’s feeling them. I think Alison’s advice is the best thing to do here.

    1. Caramel Sauce Boat*

      I would all that ALL pranks are kids’ stuff. At the risk of being labeled a humorless killjoy, I think pranks just do not belong in the office. Then again, I don’t understand why people think it’s funny to embarrass or frighten another person, in any situation.

        1. hildi*

          Shoot, I don’t even have Nyquil to blame it on :) I got what you meant :)

          Agreed. And that’s what Vicki said below – embarassing or scaring others (intentionally anyway) isn’t funny.

      1. Celeste*

        +1000 I also think the employer has too much liability if somebody gets injured in your prank.

      2. Jessa*

        I agree with you. I remember when I got married, my fiance had to explain in big giant neon letters type voice, to his friends that NO, pranking me would be BAD in big Hollywood sign size letters. And especially the rental car that I did not own. As that would result in a police report and people getting arrested for vandalism because I would not pay one penny if the car could not be restored to original condition. And I would have zero qualms calling the cops on them, I would not ask if it was a joke, I’d just call first and ask questions later. I don’t take pranks as jokes, I take them as attacks. And I respond accordingly.

        They immediately gave up on the idea of shaving cream inside my rental car, I found out later.

        And yes I know I overreact. No offence but too bad on the prankers. I’ve had too many issues in the past. Pranks are never fun.

  5. Vicki*

    This is not elementary school.
    This is not a college fraternity with drunken brothers on the weekend.
    This is work.

    I _loathe_ “pranks”. There are no “practical” jokes. “Fun” at someone else’s expense is never funny.

    Apologize. Right now. And rethink your sense of “humor” in the office.

        1. Sunflower*

          YESSS so many people in my office pull Jim Halpert like pranks on the office dwight. Apparently there was a guy here before me who my boss got together with and were always pulling pranks. His favorite was when they unhinged someone’s door and how it was this huge, long drawn out process. All I could think was ‘Don’t ever complain to me again about extra hours YOU have to work’

    1. Zahra*

      Also, “I’m not laughing *at* you, I’m laughing *with* you” only works if the other person is sincerely laughing at your joke/prank. I don’t know how many times I heard that chestnut when I was visibly upset/angry.

      1. Mallorie, the (former) recruiter*

        Yes – I like pranks and practical jokes, but I also am careful because I know others do not. I would not be upset if someone played one on me… but at this point in my career I’d probably not participate in one because I would hate to alienate someone who was really “NOT AMUSED!”.

      2. Nina*

        Yeah, or hearing the dreaded “Lighten up/relax, it’s just a joke!” Ugh.

        When the person who’s been pranked isn’t laughing because they’re so upset or panicked, it’s not a joke anymore.

        1. Jessa*

          OMG that phrase just triggers the heck out of me, anyone saying it to me is probably going to watch a melt down of monumental proportions. I’m the victim of childhood bullying by adults who always said that as if it made what they did to me okay.

          1. GemLDN*

            I loathe pranking because it involves making an idiot out of someone. I also find it very triggering due to childhood bullying.

            If I’d been the one locked on the balcony, I’d have asked to have a private word with the OP, and then said “don’t you ever do that to me again” and accompany it with the glare of death. But, I’m not the co-worker.

            I’m not saying the co-worker was right to threaten physical violence, but I do think that it’s the OP who caused the whole problem, and it’s the OP who needs to apologise. You can’t predict how someone will react to that kind of high school behaviour.

    2. Cat*

      I don’t think every prank is nasty or at someone else’s expense though. For instance, last year when I went on vacation, my co-workers replaced everything in my office with tiny miniature versions of that thing. It was clearly affectionate; it was hilarious; their attention to detail was impressive; and I certainly didn’t feel taken advantage of. That’s different than locking someone on a balcony.

      1. fposte*

        I don’t know if I’d enjoy that one either, but I can at least see why it counts as a prank–it involves humor and planning and wit. I don’t see how a spontaneous locking somebody out of the office is even really a prank–it’s just something the person doing it (and those next to her) finds funny.

        1. Cat*

          Right – and that certainly wouldn’t be appropriate with everyone. These particular co-workers knew me well enough to know I’d be charmed, which is different than a newer employee who you don’t know that well. So a misfire on several levels.

          1. What?!?!?!*

            The “new” employee had been there a year. Hardly a “new” employee and as they sit next to each other, she may have truly thought he would find it funny. She was wrong, but it was not a “sabotage the new guy” type of situation.

            1. Cat*

              Except the OP characterized them as a “newer employee” and said she didn’t know them well.

              1. Julie*

                Why in the world would someone think it was OK to pull a prank on someone s/he doesn’t know well?

          1. stellanor*

            I normally hate pranks but I want someone to play that prank on me. I love miniature stuff.

      2. Turanga Leela*

        I really enjoy practical jokes that are not mean or disruptive. This one sounds adorable. Nobody at my job has done anything that elaborate, but last April Fools’ Day, administrators sent out an email about a new office policy… which then linked to “Never Gonna Give You Up.” I totally fell for it.

      3. Windchime*

        One time, a coworker came in early and switched all the pictures around on everyone’s desk. So I had a picture of someone’s daughter on my desk, someone else had pictures of my kids. A couple of people even had framed pictures from magazines. It was a cute prank and very funny to all of us. Nothing was damaged in any way. This is my idea of a fun and harmless prank.

        A person in my room used to threaten to find a big spider and put it on my desk. Not funny AT ALL because I have an immediate, horrible fear response when I see one. (I don’t even like typing the word “spider”.)

      4. Jessa*

        The problem with this is your reaction is not everyone else’s. Your definition of fun vs nasty is not the same as the person next to you. I’ve seen some pretty impressive office substitutions (one company that did ice sculptures was contracted to do some CEO’s office down to his coffee cup that was made of ice with real coffee in it.) His reaction was WOW.

        Mine would have been – you messed with my things, where are they, are you sure none of them have been damaged/lost? You have about ten minutes to fix this NOW.

        And I get it, it was a wildly technically cool thing to do. It should, however, have been done to a neutral space.

        1. Cat*

          But I did like it. My coworkers knew I’d like it, at least to as reasonable a degree of confidence as anyone could have. Why shouldn’t they have done it because someone else wouldn’t have liked it? (And a neutral space actually does implicate people you’re not always going to know about in a way a personal office doesn’t.)

    3. Anonymous*

      Exactly! OP’s behavior is disgusting, pure and simple. The poor coworker had every right to react the way he did and would be well within his rights to report this kind of act to HR.

      I really, really hoped people like OP had all stayed in high school. It saddens me greatly to know that they are still out there, in the workforce, cruelly picking on others for no good reason.

      If you’re going to act like a bully from a 90s teen flick, then that’s the kind of ending you deserve – maybe not getting hit by a bus Mean Girls-style, but certainly some sort of public humiliation.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That seems like a really strong reaction to something that wasn’t intended meanly. It was poorly thought out and a bad idea, yes, but disgusting? That seems unwarranted.

        And the OP wasn’t picking on the guy; the letter says that the OP likes him and thought he would find it funny.

          1. Anonymous*

            Extremely cruel. I’m a little confused at your response here Alison. This is way beyond “bad idea” and unbelievably beyond “you probably crossed a bit of a line”. Can you explain the side of the argument that makes this defensible behavior in the workplace?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s not defensible behavior. I told the OP to apologize.

              But it’s also not the crime of the century. People make mistakes, and the OP knows this was a mistake.

              1. Cara*

                Maybe not the crime of the century, but false imprisonment is literally a crime. For good reason. I do find this “prank” disgusting and cruel.

                1. Anna*

                  False imprisonment refers to the government, not private citizens. This prank is neither disgusting nor cruel and I would recommend you figure out what disgusting and cruel really are because there are some truly disgusting and cruel things happening in this world that this badly done prank is nowhere near.

                2. Gavin*

                  Yes indeed, Cara. In Washington (my homestate), false imprisonment is a Class C felony. While this may sound extreme to think of being locked on a balcony as a felony, the law is pretty straightforward (again, in WA):

                  RCW 9A.40.040
                  Unlawful imprisonment.
                  (1) A person is guilty of unlawful imprisonment if he or she knowingly restrains another person.
                  (2) Unlawful imprisonment is a class C felony.

                  Anna, I think you may have misconstrued the meaning of false imprisonment. Private citizens can be charged with false imprisonment.

                  Although I wouldn’t describe this prank as cruel or disgusting, I certainly wouldn’t call this act harmless, either. Spending “a few minutes” out on the balcony wasn’t the intent of the OP. Had the co-worker been unable to escape, who knows how long the OP intended to leave co-worker out there? OP never specifies his original intent in his post. Sounds like someone being held against their will, no?

            2. amaranth16*

              I am also confused. I agree with Anonymous that this is a really cruel trick to play – just like locking someone in a closet would be a really cruel trick. Both are absolutely unacceptable in a professional environment. I don’t know that “disgusting” is the word I’d use, but I’d be very comfortable with “deplorable.”

            3. Anonimo*

              Because most reasonable people don’t equate pranks with cruelty…? Without knowing all of the specifics (was he aware he was being pranked? Was the weather ok? Did it make him late for anything or miss anything? Did he seem to be distressed/was anybody watching his reaction?), it’s a real reach that this approaches “cruel.” The OP said they had a joking relationship before this, so it’s not unreasonable to expect this person would be down for a prank. Not that I think this specific prank was a good idea, but in general, people can appreciate them when done well, laugh them off, and bond over minor jokes.

              I think cruel would have to be done with malintent and cause significant embarrassment or harm. From this letter, it seems neither of those apply.

              I understand not everyone likes pranks, and that’s fine. I totally agree with Allison about needing to know the recipient very, very well, which obviously wasn’t the case here.

              But forcibly laying hands on another? Nooopppee.

              1. TL*

                Yup. Of the two – being locked outside and being manhandled – being manhandled would provoke a much strong and much more long-term reaction from me.

                1. Del*

                  One of these is a “joke” in very poor taste. The other is assault. Yeah, I’m not seeing an equivalence here.

                2. RG*

                  Well, if you want to get all technical about it, one is false imprisonment and the other is assault. Both are torts.

              2. amaranth16*

                I did not equate pranks with cruelty. I described THIS prank as cruel. And I do consider myself a reasonable person, but if a coworker of mine locked another coworker on a balcony or in a closet, I would not consider that a harmless prank. It does not take a great leap of judgment or empathy to be aware that there are some situations that are likely to provoke massive anxiety reactions in people… like being stranded in an enclosed or inaccessible space. This isn’t filling someone’s office with balloons; it’s more akin to putting a tarantula on someone’s desk. It plays off of something that is a common phobia and that has a good chance of scaring and embarrassing the mark.

                We don’t need to know “all of the specifics” – we know some of them, and I would argue that we know enough of them. This doesn’t mean I think the OP was malicious – I think it’s clear that that’s not the case. But I think the OP was negligent and inconsiderate, and I think not taking *a second* to think about whether this is actually a harmless prank or whether it’s going to really hurt or upset someone is cruel.

                And none of this is to say that it was OK that the prank victim reacted that way. Just that I totally get why it happened.

                1. Katie the Fed*

                  Concur. I think THIS prank in particular was very ill-conceived. I doubt the OP realized how bad it could end.

                  Empathy, people!

            4. Jeff A.*

              I think in this case the OP’s intent comes into play. If the intent had been to lock the jerk employee out on the balcony to sabotage a sales presentation with a client, that’s a little further along the “disgusting” continuum.

              Misjudging your coworker’s reaction is a big gaffe – I definitely agree that prank was inappropriate – but I don’t see the malice behind it.

              1. LD*

                Intent vs. impact. It sounds good to think about intent but it reminds me of the old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It’s important to think about both intent and impact but impact is critical. “Oh, I didn’t mean to run you over with my car, it was an accident! I just wanted to get to work on time.” Good intent, bad impact. So even with good intent, if the impact it bad enough, the consequences of the impact trump the intent.
                In this situation, the OP acted badly, the target responded, understandably, with anger and then stepped over the line with threatening behavior. BUT, the OP is the one who asked for advice about how to handle it and Alison was spot on in my opinion. Apologize and make it serious and sincere. Tell the victim that you hope he can forgive you and that you understand he may still feel angry about it and you want him to know his anger is absolutely justified. Validate that he has a right to be angry with you for what you did. That can sometimes help people to forgive faster than if you try to make them feel bad for their angry reaction. It sounds like you’ve learned an important lesson. Let your coworker know. Good luck and don’t play more pranks like this at work!

            5. Mary*

              Agreed – it was a cruel prank – especially the part about it being a few minutes before a client meeting. That made it even more suspect. It seems as if the co-worker was lured out into the balcony and then locked in. Even the OP admitted that the other co-worker who found it funny said she would not have locked the door. I don’t see how anyone would think it is funny. As the OP stated, the co-worker locked out hasn’t mentioned it, I think the OP is writing this for validation to go to the manager.

        1. Sunflower*

          OP did overstep by doing this to someone he apparently didn’t know that well but locking someone on a balcony is not the same as publicly humiliating them. My friend told his new employee everyone wore suits on Saturdays so the employee showed up in a suit while everyone else had on jeans. I’d find that more humiliating than this prank and that was not a big deal. The other guy did overact when he grabbed OP. At this point, he was inside and safe. He could have taken him aside and said ‘I really don’t like pranks, especially ones that involve me being locked out of places. Can you not do that again’

          1. wanderlust*

            When I first read this, I mentally switched suits and jeans and was like, “WOW, that’s mean!” The other is mean too, but can you imagine if you showed up in jeans when everyone else was in a suit? Now that would be cruel.

          2. BW*

            “At this point, he was inside and safe.”


            I can’t think of better advice than what Alison wrote. Two wrongs don’t make a right. Both sides were wrong, so they both should apologize in chronological order.

            I’m torn on pranks. I don’t feel the desire to be the pranker, but if I got a prank pulled on me I might find it funny. This particular one, I don’t really see the harm. I actually locked MYSELF on a balcony once, also happened to be right before a company function involving clients. It was only second floor and good weather. I went out there to answer a phone call and didn’t know the door locked behind me. It was really no big deal. I just called the front desk for help–and begged and offered the receptionist many bribes to never tell. She did of course and everyone thought it was hilarious. I actually think it increased coworkers’ camaraderie towards me.

        2. EngineerGirl*

          The problem is context. The OP didn’t know the person well enough to know if they would react OK or not. Being locked out on a balcony could trigger all sorts of phobias. At that point, it would take a long time for them to be rational again. I can totally see the target reacting this way and it is a NORMAL fear response.

          But even if it didn’t trigger a fear response – distracting someone right before a company meeting? How is the target to get their thoughts back in time?

          I would be furious if I were this persons manager. The OP acted like a bully. And the standard response from bullies? “Can’t you take a joke?”

          1. thenoiseinspace*

            That, to me, is the bigger problem. Someone else mentioned that the person would likely not have been on a balcony if they were afraid of heights, and that’s a fair point. Doing that on a regular work day, to me, is a totally different case from doing it minutes before an important event with clients. At the very least, it will leave the person shaken, and at worst they could be a terrified, nervous wreck. In either case, it’s not going to come across well and it’s not the victim’s fault. If he prepared anything for the meeting, he’s likely to have forgotten it, and now he’ll appear disorganized.

            Any prank that could likely have a negative impact of the victim’s job is not a good prank. OP did act like a bully*, and now if the victim doesn’t take it well, he’s the one that will be seen in a bad light.

            *That said, I admit that my views on this might be different if the OP had acted alone. The fact that there was another person laughing with him/her just smacks of high school jocks locking up a nerd and giving him swirlies. As a former high school nerd, this brings back too many bad memories.

          2. Jeff A.*

            “The OP acted like a bully. And the standard response from bullies? ‘Can’t you take a joke?'” This is a great point.

            Also, I think the difference between bullying and a prank is with how the recipient reacts. React with humor, it was a prank. React with terror/embarrassment/anxiety/etc, it was bullying.

            I enjoy a good prank. But really, a prank that could be construed as a threat or elicit a negative physiological reaction really isn’t the type of prank you need to be pulling in the workplace. Save those for your spouse/SO/roommate/friends/frat brothers, and elevate your workplace prank game.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t think that definition works, because intent matters. Plenty of us are not bullies but could fumble a comment or a joke, and then feel badly about it afterwards and sincerely apologize (which are not the acts of a bully).

              1. EngineerGirl*

                But in this case the OP was thinking about going to the manager about the targets reaction, not their own actions. That tells me that “intent” might not be quite so pure or that they aren’t owning it yet.

                1. EngineerGirl*

                  To clarify – note how many times the OP uses the word “but” after discussion of what they did.

                2. TL*

                  @EngineerGirl: Picture the scenario with a 5’1″ 110 lb small woman being the pranker and a 6’2″ 200 lb man being the prankee and suddenly the OP’s concern becomes much more valid, yah?

                  That’s probably not what happened, but I can imagine being so concerned about the overreaction that you’re not really examining your own actions.

                3. Eos*

                  I would totally go to my manager about being grabbed hard enough to describe it as painful and dragged around the place no matter what I’d done that my assaulter was trying to use as justification. We don’t know this person’s workplace well enough to know that pranks aren’t the culture there but we can more or less issue the blanket statement that physical assault is not OK in 99%-100% of workplaces the world over. I would not be going to the person who ASSAULTED me to apologise! Unwanted contact is harassment/assault.

                  Would I if that person came and explained I’d really upset them as they felt stupid/humiliated people saw them in that situation or they’d had a panic attack due to whatever phobia they suffer from? Very much so. After they assaulted me, not so much! Would the police take a very dim view of threats and assault in reaction to a misfired prank? I’m thinking yes. I’m also thinking the police would struggle to see it as unlawful confinement in a busy conference centre where odds were good someone was going to let the guy back in sooner or later. He wasn’t behind a padlock for which no one had the key in someone’s basement.

                  The difference here is it’s never ok to assault someone, in some places/relationships it is ok to prank someone.

                  To me the manager’s reaction here needs to be you locked Wakeem on the balcony at a client meeting which was A) ill advised timing for a prank which could make him late and upset him before this event, B) didn’t take into account what his reaction to this could be, and B) was a very childish waste of company time. But furthermore the manager needs to take Wakeem aside and clarify to him that no matter what happens to him in the future, physically assaulting and threatening to beat up another member of staff is not going to be tolerated by the workplace. I’m really finding it hard to believe so many of what I would consider wise and wonderful commenters on this blog are justifying the physical assault of a person who was stupid to do what they did in a workplace environment to someone they didn’t really know but certainly not deserving of being assaulted at work! Honestly, the situation would have turned into me telling this person if they ever put hands on me again I would have them on assault charges. I’d never have let it go to the point of writing a letter in about it days later.

                  No matter what the prank made Wakeem feel, it doesn’t excuse him putting his hands on someone else and threatening them. It would excuse him going to his manager and saying Jane did this and it really upset me because… It would excuse him going to Jane and asking for a word in private and even being very obviously angry with Jane in that discussion. But it does not excuse him hitting her, grabbing her or threatening to punch her/kick her ass etc. As the example has been made, someone cutting me up in traffic and driving in a manner which might cause an accident might really wind me up, but it would not excuse me hauling that person bodily out of their car and threatening to punch them in the face if I ever saw them doing it again.

                  I don’t care if it’s two men or two women involved, violence is not ok.

              2. Jeff A.*

                This is true. I definitely agree that intent matters. I think I just meant the recipient’s reaction determines whether the prank was in fact funny/appropriate or not. I wasn’t being very clear with that point.

                1. Jeff A.*

                  “A Bug!” has a comment further down the thread which is in line with what I actually meant :)

          3. NK*

            I don’t really understand why we’re belaboring this point. The OP is acknowledging that he made a mistake. This isn’t the guy with the bumper sticker on his truck who doesn’t understand why people can’t take a joke. I agree that it’s not unreasonable that someone would act angrily if they were the subject of this prank. But where is the line? Would people defend the coworker if he punched OP in the face? I think that is more the point of this letter.

        3. Anonymous*

          I’m sorry, but I don’t see this how could be anything but mean, or could possibly not be meant to pick on the guy.

        4. Jessa*

          Intention is not magic. If you do this to me and I have a full blown panic attack and end up in hospital, the fact you thought I’d think it funny is irrelevant. Intention only informs the apology of the person who did it. “OMG I wasn’t trying to be malicious, I’m so sorry, I’ll never do that kind of thing to anyone again.” Right now the OP is asking for well I don’t know, vindication? Proof that what they did was okay? I get that the victim overreacted, but the OP had no idea going in where the victim’s head was.

          Now if the OP was asking “OMG how do I apologise here, I had no idea the person would react this way, I don’t know why, and I don’t want to make it worse, please help?” I’d feel a lot better. But the OP is more worried about the reaction THEY caused than the fact that they caused it.

          1. Eos*

            The person might have taken away some of the LW’s desire to say sorry when they assaulted LW in a work environment afterwards… They are asking for advice how to go forward after they did something they have now acknowledged was ill advised that then got them assaulted and threatened by a co-worker, not vindication. This person grabbed them, dragged them around and then threatened them in an under-breath hiss. This is not a panicked reaction to a just happened event. That is a premeditated fit of rage and I think the person reacting in rage is 1,000,000 times scarier than a person who did something silly and now knows it was silly.

              1. Eos*

                No, but he certainly had time to plan that he was going to go to his colleague, lay hands on him/her, drag him/her around the room to somewhere no one else would hear (IE knew s/he was about to say something they should not say and would not want others to hear) and then say something they should not say which was to threaten a colleague with physical violence. The fact this person doesn’t know manhandling and threatening a colleague is wildly out of order is a way bigger issue to me than someone doing something admittedly childish and a waste of company time but coming from a place where s/he and another colleague thought it would be a bit of a laugh. They were quite clearly wrong, but nothing about that gives the prankee carte blanche to assault people, and to me, that shows a worse error in judgement. Maybe I’m a different type of manager but I would want to know about this to take it up with both of them for entirely different reasons.

          2. Bwmn*

            The intention of the OP was to engage in a jovial office relationship. Afterwards, the intention of the prankee was to ensure that never happened again. Both actions were inappropriate – while both intentions were reasonable. I agree with Alison that the OP should apologize – but that in no way makes the prankee’s behavior appropriate and thus the confusion makes sense to me regarding the OP.

            I was once meeting up with a friend at a bar, I had been there for a while with some friends and she showed up later. The reason for her late arrival was because she had a very swollen lip and she’d been concerned about being out in public with it. Others with her had been spending the a while telling her it was fine and no one would notice. The first thing I said when I saw her was essentially “whoa, are you ok – that looks bad?” To this day if you ask her, she thinks I was drawing the bar’s attention to her lip and laughing at her. Now I may have been loud, but I know my intent was out of concern for what looked (to me) like a medical problem (which it was, and she ended up needing to be hospitalized for it).

            Regardless of my intention, I clearly hurt her feelings. So I apologized and learned that issues regarding her appearance make her very sensitive. But I still don’t think her very angry reaction at me was correct. I wasn’t looking to hurt her feelings and I’m truly sorry I did. But when it initially happened I needed to find clarification that what I did – while perhaps an error – didn’t make me a monster.

      2. What?!?!?!*

        “Had very right to react the way he did”?!?!?! UMMM….No. He would be within his rights to report it to HR. But he was not within his rights to physically assault someone and to threaten them.

        I am not a prank person, but for him to treat OP like that shows a basic disrespect as great as or greater than the disrespect shown him. It is NEVER ok to physically assault someone. It is NEVER ok to threaten someone with physical harm. This is someone with mental problems.

        1. Jeff A.*

          Whose “mental problems” could very well be vertigo or PTSD. Not saying it’s okay to assault someone in the workplace, but I think if the pranked has been otherwise reasonable and never had any reason to suspect this type of reaction, then there’s likely something underlying the behavior that would be a total non issue had the OP not thought it would be funny to lock someone out on a balcony.

        2. Jeff A.*

          If you were trapped in an elevator with someone with severe claustrophobia and they grabbed you as they started having a panic attack, I think you’d be a little more understanding of the behavior, no?

          1. The Real Ash*

            What if someone has a phobia of being grabbed by another person? We could play this hypothetical phobia game all day.

            1. Jeff A.*

              The commenter I was responding to used “NEVER” twice to make a point, prompting a hypothetical to show that reasonable people might think exceptions exist, depending on the circumstances.

              1. BW*

                But at that point, the prankee was no longer still trapped on the balcony. He was outside of the situation and should have cooled off at least a bit by then. As sunflower said above: “at this point, he was inside and safe.” So the trapped-in-the-elevator scenario isn’t really analogous. Because in that hypothetical scenario, the person was STILL in the situation when he reacted. This prankee was not. He got OUT of the situation and had had at least a little time to decide how he was going to react, and grabbing someone and threatening more physical violence was the path he chose.

                1. Betsy*

                  Adrenalin doesn’t come with an off switch. Being out of the immediate danger doesn’t mean you are instantly calm and rational again.

                  I don’t mean to target you directly, but I’m seeing this a lot in the comments. If his fight or flight instinct was engaged, the letup of that tension might leave him shaky or even weepy. I’d be trying pretty hard in his situation to stay angry, because anger is easier for me to push through than embarrassment or weepy relief, and if he had to be “on” for clients, that could have been nightmarish for him.

                2. Journal editor and children's literature scholar (fposte)*

                  Then he really should have stayed away from clients if he was that unable to function rationally.

                  He was under no physical threat. If his adrenaline makes him somebody who manhandles and threatens in response to his own phobia, that’s an anger management problem, not an acceptable response.

                3. Journal editor and children's literature scholar (fposte)*

                  Sorry, that was a little overblunt. But while I totally understand how this could have affected how he *felt*, it’s not enough to get him off the hook for how he *acted.*

              1. What?!?!?!*

                So by your reasoning, if you do something inappropriate, it makes it OK for the person to whom you did the inappropriate thing to do inappropriate things to you? Not sure I buy that logic. Two wrongs do not make a right.

                In the elevator example, it would not be OK for me to knock the crap out of the person grabbing at me just because I have PTSD and may want to get them the $@!$@#$@ off me. I am responsible for how I react. And their inappropriate action does not make my inappropriate reaction OK.

    4. Katie the Fed*

      Ehh see I think you really have to know the people you work with and the culture. Like if I worked with you, Vicki – obviously I wouldn’t pull a prank on you :)
      But where I work we’re known to pull small pranks from time to time, like sending out ridiculous emails from an unlocked computer, small things like that. On April Fool’s day, I told my team members that due to budget constraints everyone had been reassigned to silly and obviously fake jobs. This stuff works because of our culture and the fact that we know each other well.
      But when you misjudge a coworker or culture and assume everyone shares your humor, that’s when things can get ugly.
      OP made a mistake – it was poorly thought out. Lesson learned – he doesn’t need to be sent to the company stockade for it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly — you need to know who you’re dealing with. The OP got that wrong here and knows it, but plenty of people enjoyed being pranked. I’ve worked with some of them (and have enjoyed it myself)! Not everyone feels the same on this issue; you have to know your audience (and act with moderation).

        1. OriginalYup*

          How easy is it to know your audience though? My experience is that pranking, because it’s a form of humor, is hard to predict and people mostly figure out who does and doesn’t enjoy it through trial and error. Which is a scenario ripe for misfires. (There has occasionally been full-on yelling in my personal communication of my non-enjoyment of pranks. Which I freely admit is inappropriate and not super admirable, but holy cow was I p*ssed off at the time.)

              1. A Bug!*

                If you find that you can’t reliably judge others’ senses of humor, then might I suggest you leave pranking to those who can?

                1. BW*

                  I think pranking is one of those things that fall into the “when in doubt just don’t do it” category. If one ever finds oneself thinking “hmmm I wonder if I should pull X prank on Y, will they find it funny?” then the answer is probably no.

                2. I don't want a user name*

                  I do. I would never prank anyone, I find the whole concept utterly unpleasant.

                  Unfortunately there are plenty of assholes who disagree, and who apparently lack the judgement required.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Where I work, I think it’s pretty easy. But we’re a tight-knit bunch. I mean, these are people who get together on the weekends to play Cards Against Humanity (as a manager, I have to sit those out now – I go with the standard of “how would this look in a deposition?”) so I feel like I have a pretty good idea of their humor.

            Other offices are different. I prefer to work in a place where we can joke a bit though.

            1. OriginalYup*

              I get what you’re saying, it’s probably easier to predict in a small office where everyone spends a lot of time together and there’s plenty of crossover between work and social. For me personally, though, it’d be like trying to predict who’s allergic to peanuts. I’m always gobsmacked at the person who pranks me because I never would have guessed them for it. (Which, now that I think about it more, is probably just my bias as a prank-hater who can’t fathom enjoying it at all so why would I ever guess that Person X digs it.)

            2. Katie the Fed*

              I should add that the standard of “how would this sound in a deposition” is also a good one of determining whether a prank is a good idea. :)

          2. Rana*

            Agreed. Plus there are the people like me who loathe being teased and pranked most of the time (I only tolerate it from people I know really, really well, and can trust aren’t trying to hurt me) but who go along with the “joke” in order to stave off even more teasing and pranking. You might think I enjoyed being the butt of a joke because I laughed, but you would be wrong.

            1. Canadamber*

              Yeah, I really hate getting pranked as well. I’m just too sensitive, I guess. :P But at no point would I ever DREAM of threatening someone with physical violence over it. Yelling? Sure! Hurting someone? Nooooo!!!

        2. QualityControlFreak*

          Not only do you need to know who you’re dealing with, but context matters, a lot. This prank was timed right before a meeting with clients, and apparently did make the prank-ee late, as OP says they were talking to a client and pulled away when the coworker managed to extricate themself. My take on this, considering the context, is that it was this very unprofessional. If I were a client, the interaction described would certainly make me wonder about doing business with this company. Even more so if I happened to step out on the balcony for a breath of fresh air and found someone had been locked out there as a joke. Poor judgement; apology in order.

            1. QualityControlFreak*

              Oh I have been the author of a few pranks in my time. But in a small workgroup, in an informal office. The prank-ee was the lead and someone I had worked with for years.

              So when we set up the tri-wall at his desk and put a cardboard toilet seat on his chair, mounted a little tissue roll to one side and encouraged everyone to write birthday wishes on the walls … he sat right down and enjoyed the joke and the camaraderie.

              I knew him well and was pretty confident of his reaction, but again, context matters. During an inspection, recert or audit? Um, no.

              1. Monodon monoceros*

                Yes, the timing can be important. Scotch tape on the bottom of coworker’s mouse? Mostly funny. On the day a grant application7report is due? Not Funny.

                Rearranging someone’s office while they are on vacation? Usually funny. Done when they are returning to a looming deadline? Not Funny.

    5. The Real Ash*

      Last week I brought in a jar of jelly beans with those weird-tasting Jelly Belly flavors mixed in and set them out for everyone to enjoy. Everyone had fun and loved the weird flavors. Clearly I am a monster.

      1. Rana*

        No, clearly you’re not appreciating why things that can be funny to some people – especially if they’re the instigator, rather than the target – might be perceived as anything but funny by the individual who is the butt of the joke.

        It’s that lack of appreciation that’s the problem, not the “joke” per se, especially if one implies that anyone who disagrees must lack a sense of humor (read, is defective) instead of simply having a different sense of what is and is not funny.

        A lot of people have explained why pranks might not be funny. Are they all wrong?

        1. Ethyl*

          As someone with a delicate gag reflex who pretty much barfs ALL THE TIME, I would definitely not find this funny.

          Truly, for every “harmless” prank, there are people out there that would find it anywhere between troubling and full-on triggering, and the answer to that, I think, is to avoid pranking. Full stop, no “unless you know someone very well,” no “butbutbut INTENT,” no “context.”

          If my partner gently and lovingly did something that appeared harmless with all the good intentions in the world that nevertheless hit me in the wrong place at the wrong time, howsoever long he knew me wouldn’t matter.

          1. fposte*

            Though presumably you’re not taking jellybeans from other people’s stashes then, yes?

            And I’m kind of startled by the “however long he knew me wouldn’t matter” if something hit you in the wrong place at the wrong time. Really? Somebody who took you to the hospital at 3 a.m. and held your hand at your mom’s funeral doesn’t get cut more slack for a mistake than somebody who was at his first day at work with you? That doesn’t make sense to me.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I think Ethyl means at the actual moment of the prank, she’d be pretty mad at him despite all that stuff. I’m sure she’d get over it, if he was genuinely sorry.

          2. Cat*

            This seems like an absurdly cautious standard to me. In any situation in which people are reaching out and trying to connect with other people, there are going to be instances where people fumble or say the wrong thing or hit upon the wrong thing completely by accident and no matter how well they know the person. That includes with gifts, with compliments, with jokes that you thought the other person would appreciate, anything. That doesn’t make it horrible that people tried to connect because it could go badly. There has to be a rule of reason here.

            1. Laura2*

              Yep. I am not fond of workplace pranks, but I agree with you. I’ve noticed a tendency on the internet to label every single potential offense or mistake as a “deal breaker” regardless of the length and type of relationship.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yep. I’m skeptical that everyone who’s taking such a hard line stance here would be doing it if the OP were a coworker, friend, or family member who they liked.

                1. EngineerGirl*

                  I think it is a factor of how badly they were bullied as children. So there is an emotional aspect to it.
                  Which goes to show how bullying has long term consequences – people have very emotional reactions when seeing this kind of thing. At that point “intent” doesn’t matter because the emotion has already kicked in.

                2. fposte*

                  But I think Alison’s right in that people in real life are not likely to react as strongly as they are on the internet, because in real life it’s coming from people they know. (The bad side of that is that it’s always easier to leave a hypothetical abusive partner than a real one.) I think bullying may factor in somewhat, in that that’s a projection people may have, but that kind of projection is an error in judgment.

                3. Zillah*

                  Yeah, what EngineerGirl said. I think that if you can easily imagine yourself in the prankee’s shoes – either because you were bullied a lot as a child or because you have a phobia that you don’t want pushed – you’re a lot more likely to take a hard line stance.

                4. Us, Too*

                  You know, perhaps some of the issue here is that we’re talking ABOUT the situation on this blog rather than saying what we’d say to our actual colleague/boss/HR. I’m not going to call my colleague an asshole to his face. Or to my boss. or to HR. For those audiences I’d use an appropriate emotional detachment. But I still may think that’s an assholey thing to do and describe it as such here.

                  (My husband and I have potty mouths so we may very well use those terms with each other – know your audience).

                5. Jessa*

                  Honestly, the pranks are bad standard is 100% for me, I don’t play them and don’t like them being played. I don’t do this even to people I know 100% are okay with them (because they actively TOLD me they are.) Pranks are not necessary the possibility of one going wrong is sufficient to just NOT. Especially at work.

                6. GemLDN*

                  In response to EngineerGirl (April 15, 2014 at 5:58 pm)

                  Yes. I totally agree.

                  I still feel that these kind of pranks don’t belong at work – especially just before a client meeting.

                  But I do understand that my personal experience of bullying is giving me quite a strong emotional response to this situation.

            2. BW*

              I agree with you. “That doesn’t make it horrible that people tried to connect”.

              Intent matters. I think I personally would take a prank well if I were given signs that this is the pranker trying to connect with me. I would probably be appreciative.

              In this case, I think a heartfelt apology from the OP would help convey to the coworker that OP’s intent was NOT malicious.

              1. Jamie*

                And there are ways of telling people to dial it back when they cross a line that get the message without making it a huge deal.

                In a pretty relaxed atmosphere where people like each other there can be some teasing and goofing around. There are things that people who know me well can tease me about and I find it funny – because I know they like me and it’s coming from a friendly place.

                Exact same teasing from someone new or who doesn’t know me well would get the side eye – because unless you have good reason to believe we’re close enough that you get the benefit of the doubt as to intent then you just shouldn’t do it.

                I saw someone handle this brilliantly once. New guy called someone an assh*le in conversation. Long term coworker said, calmly, don’t call me that. New guy said well I heard Bob call you that joking around. Long term guy said, “but you don’t know me well enough yet to do that with me.” This was done in a totally calm, non-confrontational, matter of fact way…and then changed the subject.

                tldr; To sum up I’m a big fan of affectionate teasing among friends – but it only works when there is already mutual respect and rapport.

              2. Jessa*

                Intent doesn’t matter. You can have all the good intentions in the world, if it hurts someone the fact you didn’t want to cause hurt only informs your apology more. It does not mean that you get to wipe the slate or give you even a partial pass on the matter. Intent is in the eye of the RECEIVER not the sender. Your intent is only as good as you actually communicate it to the other person. WHILE doing something, not after as an excuse.

                1. Eos*

                  If you make a mistake and kill someone driving your car, in your world you should do life for murder then? To the family of that person they’re still dead no matter what. It is the fact that you didn’t intend to kill anyone when you went out that morning that gets you manslaughter and a few years instead of murder in the first degree and life. So intent does matter. You had all the best intentions in the world when you set off. Maybe you’re a careful driver who does the speed limit and slows down appropriately for the prevailing weather of the day. But maybe you just lost concentration for a minute. And that was enough to kill someone. You didn’t point your car at them and floor it so to me, your intent matters after as well. You’re going to be genuinely sorry and you didn’t mean to do it. You didn’t mean to devastate a family, so it matters.

                2. N.J.*

                  This is a reply for Eos, but there was no direct relay button for his response. You use a good example, but intent in the situation of manslaughter vs. murder only applies to the severity of punishment you would receive from the criminal justice system.

                  In the eyes of the family members of the person our hypothetical driver killed with his or her car in this scenario, intent doesn’t replace the fact that the family member would be dead and probably wouldn’t make them forgive the driver any more readily.

                  If we applied this scenario to a workplace situation, intent might keep the prank dr from getting fired (the difference between a poorly conceived prank and malicious bullying), but whatever damage is still done and it might not matter to the victim what the intent was, if the consequences to the victim were severe enough.

                  The workplace/boss would be the criminal justice system in this context. You might not get fired for a “prank”, but you might get written up, or similar. So the consequences from the authority figure might be less in one situation (manslaughter=a few years in prison/well intentioned prank=writeup vs. pre-meditated murder=life in prison/bullying=fired), but there are still consequences and both sets of actions are still wrong. The degree and intent affect the “punishment” received, not necessarily whether the victim will forgive the prank or the appropriateness of pulling a prank in the first place, especially if the effect on the victim is the same.

                  In the driving example, the outcome for the victim and his or her family is the same no matter the intent. The victim is dead. For pranks, it could be argued the same way.

                3. Bwmn*

                  This is a reply to NJ – in our unintentional manslaughter killing of a pedestrian with a car – just because the family may not be inclined to forgive the driver (even in a case where perhaps the driver is found to not be at fault, and the pedestrian is) – that also does not allow them to treat the driver however their emotions dictate. They are still not allowed to stalk, harass, assault, etc. the driver just because they are upset.

                  Similarly – let’s say our prankee takes this case to the manager as says “OP locked me on the balcony for a few minutes before a meeting – after being let out, I grabbed the OP, threatened them with violence to ensure that it won’t happen again – and I want you to know all of this”. How does a manager process that?? How does the legal system process “this driver accidentally killed my loved one, so I tracked them down and beat them.”

                  Just because someone is a victim does not make them immune from being an aggressor.

    6. BCW*

      I think you are a bit too far on the other side here. There are harmless jokes that people can pull on each other to break up the day. I’m guessing you make it clear that your are not that type of person who would EVER find something in the office funny, which is fine. But everything in the office doesn’t have to be 100% serious at all times.

      Also, telling someone else to rethink their sense of humor is kind of hypocritical. I assume you don’t want someone to tell you that something is funny when you don’t agree. So don’t tell someone else that what they think is funny isn’t. I’m a grown man. I find farts funny. You may not. We can agree to disagree, but don’t tell me that I need to rethink my sense of humor.

      1. KJR*

        Thanks for the reminder BCW, I need to take my fart machine back to work soon! Nothing cracks me up more. Childish? You bet.

  6. Mark*

    Im thinking he was irate because she didn’t indicate she let him out. Im taking he got out on his on which most likely made him more angry thinking he would miss the meeting. She needs to apologize for that blunder.

    1. Gilby*

      Yeah I saw that too. “He got out a few minutes later….” is saying the OP didn’t let him out. OP was talking to clients.

      When was the OP planning on letting him out? OP? Can you chime in on that?

      I agree that might the the real issue here. I mean the OP is talking to clients and the co-worker is still on the balcony?

      The OP’s is very casual about… ” He got out….”. How? Did someone else have to unlock the door? Did he have to climb though a window?

      1. thenoiseinspace*

        This is an excellent question, and could also likely have taken this from “prank” level to “trying to sabotage my job” level in the victim’s head. It’s one thing to stand by the door ready to let him in if something goes wrong – it’s another to walk away and talk to clients, particularly if OP’s industry is a competitive one. I don’t think we have enough information to make this call.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, that stuck out at me too. What was the original plan? Who was supposed to let him out? Was there a timeframe? I’d be a lot more pissed and panicky about being locked out for an indefinite period of time before a client meeting (a “oh, I assumed someone would let you out eventually” sort of thing) than if the person who locked me out was there to let me back in quickly. Especially, again, right before a meeting–even if sabotage wasn’t the goal, it could happen accidentally.

        1. Saturn9*

          Exactly. It sounds like the plan was:

          1. Lock co-worker out on balcony just before important work function involving clients.
          2. ??????
          3. Hilarity!

          (And that’s assuming a generous reading of the OP’s motives.)

      3. wanderlust*

        I think if I was locked on a balcony and freaking out because I was late for an important meeting (not necessarily for any other fear-induced reason, although as many have mentioned, that could also come into play), and someone let me back in only to tell me, “Oh, John locked you on the balcony. He thought it would be funny.” OR (the alternative), to have watched John lock me out and then walk away – I would probably be pretty angry too. Possibly angry enough to grab John and give him a piece of my mind.

      4. Anonymous*

        Good question, now that you mention it. I was angry at the OP for the prank, and thought the guy might have responded just to that – but he could have thought this was some sort of attempt to keep him from talking to clients; that he would have to wait for someone to find him; etc. A lot’s left out about that.

  7. Celeste*

    If you apologize sincerely, he will probably apologize to you for his reaction.

    It probably never registered to him as a prank. Being new to that job, he might have thought you were trying to sabotage him by keeping him out of the meeting at its start time. If that was my thinking, I would feel super threatened.

    I’m not into pranks so I can’t say how you could have pulled this off with more finesse. But with this guy, I would go forward in a spirit of atonement and never try anything again.

  8. Except in California*

    Actually this makes me wonder how I can determine if a job applicant is a prank-puller. Such a person would not do well in our very cooperative workplace. Should I simply ask “what’s your best prank?”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Noooo, because you’ll send the wrong signals about your culture. (They’ll think you value pranks.)

      You can’t screen for absolutely everything that someone might do that’s out of sync with your culture. You screen for smart, reasonable, kind people, and then address it if something happens that’s out of sync with the culture you want.

      1. Mints*

        I only played pranks with people I liked as individuals, and worked very well with. (pranking was clipping clothes pins on each other’s clothes or hair while their backs were turned)
        At this job, which I’m actively trying to leave, I don’t even joke around, let alone play pranks

  9. CanadianWriter*

    This is not okay. You don’t lock people outside on balconies as a prank. If you absolutely must prank your coworkers, put a plastic poo on their desk or something!

  10. Anon USA*

    Wait, wait, wait, am I missing something here? Assuming it wasn’t a balcony he could easily get off of (two feet off the ground or whatever), this “prank” is pretty likely to be a crime. It’s false imprisonment. In my state it’s a felony.

    Not saying that the “prank” victim’s reaction as far as the grabbing/threats go was justified, but wow was the LW way out of line.

    Disclaimer: I am very much in the anti-prank camp.

      1. fposte*

        I think that’s getting a little strong there, and I suspect the police would too. I understand the impulse to make the OP aware that this act was more significant than she initially realized, but it’s really not likely to be treated as a felony.

        1. Anon USA*

          No, no, I know. I don’t think the police would treat it as a felony either, and I don’t think the victim should report it the police at all. I’m just trying to get at how this is rather more serious than just a “prank.”

          1. Rayner*

            Not… really. It’s a prank that went horribly horribly wrong, was misjudged and unprofessional. It wasn’t a crime, and it’s not an immediate career ender (if the OP apologies etc). It’s not illegal. It’s just a stupid, idiotic, foolish decision gone awry, and hopefully they will learn from this.

            I’m not saying it’s acceptable, and I’m not saying it’s right. But it is a prank that was ill thought out and one that failed.

            1. Anna*

              You, a private citizen, cannot falsely imprison anyone. You can kidnap, you can assault, but you cannot falsely imprison. False imprisonment refers to an action by the government. Let’s not jump on the first “law” bandwagon we come to.

              1. AnonLawyer*

                Not correct. False imprisonment is both a common law crime and a tort and can apply to actions of private citizens. False imprisonment is rarely used against governmental actors because of qualified immunity. So, you have it 100% backwards.

    1. Rayner*

      I think if you went to the police with this kind of ridiculous prank and said, “it’s false imprisonment!” they’d laugh you out of the room. The fact that it was only for a few minutes, the intention wasn’t there, nobody was hurt, and it was clearly something the culprit was deeply apologetic for, then it won’t get passed onto anybody important. Someone got locked on a balcony. Not in a pit, not for hours, not in any sense of mortal danger. Someone got locked on a balcony, that’s it. . At most, someone will come and take a report and then immediately file it in the circular filing cabinet.

      Although it’s horrible, and yes, the OP SHOULD immediately apologise and never ever ever pull it again, leaping for the long arm of the law in this situation will just make life complicated and fraught with tension between company people, and could end up getting on or both (since the coworker retaliated with threats) fired.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        I agree that the police won’t care about this and that it’s probably not worth reporting, but people upthread are saying that the prankee assaulted the OP and that it’s a crime. Anon USA is right to point out that locking somebody on the balcony is a crime too.

    2. The Real Ash*

      “False imprisonment”? Good lord. Also if we’re comparing the involved parties’ action to crimes, why not point out that the prankee assaulted and battered the prankster?

    3. BCW*

      Oh come on. False imprisonment? I think people are taking this a bit far. Did it cross a line? For this person, yes. If I was the one locked out, I can laugh it off. But to equate it to kidnapping? Thats a bit much to me.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Yeah, I have to agree here. If the co-worker was left out on the balcony overnight, well yeah, you could probably make a case for false imprisonment. But this person was locked outside for a few minutes, and then got back inside.

        I’m not saying it was OK for the OP to do this; it wasn’t. But can’t we just agree that the OP made a horrible error in judgement without ratcheting things up?

        Obviously the OP knows what s/he did was wrong — he wrote in to ask for Alison’s advice.

      2. Jamie*

        I agree. I can’t imagine a police department that doesn’t have better things to do than mediate things like this. I can’t even imagine the reaction if Chicago PD was called out by someone reporting this as a crime.

        Although if that’s the case I wonder what the statute of limitations is on that. Because when we were kids and playing hide and go seek I was in the built in laundry chute and my brother thought it would be funny to bar the door so I couldn’t get out. Then forgot about me and went to little league.

        1. Jessa*

          The fact that it would not even get a spot on a police blotter, is really not the point people are trying to make. Nobody is going to report it. The fact however is that on the face of it the pranker committed a crime. Sometimes pointing this out is necessary to stop them from doing something like that again.

          1. Anna*

            They did not, however, commit a crime. That is what’s really the point. There was No. Crime. Committed. If I pranked someone, and they didn’t like it, and instead of saying, “Please don’t do that, I don’t like it” they said, “Don’t do that! That is a crime and you could be charged with X!” I would think, “this person is nuts and prone to overreaction”.

            1. Eudora Wealthy*

              When you lock the police officer on the balcony for five minutes, then you’ll become aware that it is a crime.

      3. RG*

        Well, it meets all the elements of false imprisonment – intent to confine, actual confinement, causal link between the intent and the confinement and the subject being aware of the confinement.

        Would the police do anything about it, probably not – given that the intent wasn’t really malicious and the confinement was for a short duration.

        But yes – it’s still false imprisonment.

    4. Aisling*

      It may meet the basic definition of “false imprisonment”, but in order for it to be a crime, the intent of the person also matters. This was a poorly-thought out prank, but the LW meant it to be funny – she/he wasn’t trying to be mean. If the prankee had gotten hurt, that would be a different story.

    5. Anon 1*

      Why are so many people so quick to jump on the illegality bandwagon? It doesn’t really matter if this meets the definition of false imprisonment because it lasted two minutes and no one was hurt. Many people take action every day that would meet the elements of a crime, that doesn’t really mean much unless the behavior is bad enough to warrant legal action. And in this case it clearly does not. Was it inappropriate? Yes. But worthy of arresting, charging, and sending to trial? No. This situation would be a great first year law school torts hypo, and not much more. I should also add that you don’t need to be an attorney or even know anything about the law to know this wouldn’t be actionable (as described by the OP). Just a little common sense.

  11. Kay*

    I just wanted to say that I appreciate the mention of “qualified” apologies. It is one of my biggest pet peeve and rarely makes a situation better.

    1. Celeste*

      If you respect the person and truly want reconciliation (ie to be back in their good graces), you don’t qualify it because that’s making it about your feelings, not theirs.

    2. Jeff A.*

      Qualified apologies are not apologies. One of my biggest pet peeves as well. If you can’t be sincere, it’s less offensive if you don’t bother.

    3. BCW*

      I get that, but sometimes you really are more sorry that they took something badly as opposed to what you said. If I make a joke that you find funny 9 times out of 10, but you are having a really horrible day today so you get angry, well I’m not really sorry that I said it. I’m sorry that today it affected you badly and that I upset you. But I don’t necessarily think I was wrong, so I’m not really sorry for the statement.

      1. Laura2*

        Yep. I’ve also used a “qualified apology” when what I meant was “I don’t actually know what offended you, but here’s an apology if it was [blank].” I don’t think this applies in the OP’s situation, but it’s sometimes applicable to other situations. People really do act in unpredictable, irrational ways, sometimes because they can get what they want from overreacting.

        1. Jessa*

          You don’t need a qualified apology. Just “I’m sorry I said that, I won’t say it again.” You don’t even really need to know why it hit them badly. But, in your case if you don’t know what was offencive that’s a different issue maybe. But the apology is still “Sorry for what I said,” not “sorry you were offended by what I said.”

      2. BW*

        Yeah I get that. Sometimes what you said is not inherently wrong, but you just wouldn’t have said it to a particular person if you had known beforehand that that person would take it badly. So I think you definitely can feel bad just because you made someone feel bad and you didn’t want to make them feel bad, but not feel bad about saying/doing what made them feel bad per se.

  12. TotesMaGoats*

    Given some of the letters we’ve seen recently, it makes me wonder if people are no longer being taught how to properly rectify a situation that they messed up. Do we not teach kids to apologize anymore? Is this a symptom of helicopter parenting where no one ever makes mistakes or gets penalized for them? Or is it just a rash of people who don’t understand that a sincere, unqualified apology goes a long way towards mending broken fences.

    1. Anon for this*

      I don’t think it’s generational, really. My dad (Baby Boomer) is the champion of the qualified apology. “I’m sorry I yelled, BUT…(45 minute lecture about why you’re wrong anyway).”

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        I agree. I don’t want to say specifically that it’s generational. Lots of people of all ages are guilty of this. More a musing on how we are raising future generations though.

    2. Steve G*

      I would tend to agree with you. If you look at TV, for example, there used to be alot of TV shows like Facts of Life that “coached” kids through situations where they straight-out admitted they were wrong and apologized. I’m not seeing that as much anymore…

    3. Kuangning*

      It’s not just people who never had to apologise who don’t know how or when to give sincere apologies, but also the other extreme, in my experience. The people who got forced to give insincere apologies (“Gina’s crying, tell her you’re sorry” with Gina expected to be instantly better after the magic words) don’t know how to give sincere ones either. And that comes with the lovely bonus that after the insincere apology is given, they don’t understand why people would still be upset. (“I SAID I was sorry, what more do you want?”) I personally prefer the ones who never apologise to that.

  13. Ann Furthermore*

    I think apologizing is the only way to go here, like AAM said. Whether or not the reaction was triggered by a fear of heights or anything else is secondary. It was over the top, and out of line, but it happened as a direct result of something you did.

    Sincerely apologize, and tell him that while you meant it as a joke, you were wrong to do it and it will never happen again. Then tell him that you’d like to put it behind you and move forward. And then, of course, never do anything like that again.

    One time, I was very, very late to pick up my daughter from daycare, and ended up keeping the daycare lady and her family for almost 45 minutes past the last pickup time, when they were waiting to leave on vacation. It was completely unintentional — due to a communication snafu with my husband, but still, I just felt terrible. And the daycare lady was pretty ticked off too.

    Over the weekend I made her and her family some cupcakes, and brought them with me the next Monday. I again told her how sorry I was and asked her to please not kick up out of her daycare. She laughed, thanked me for the cupcakes, and things were fine.

    So I’m on the fence about whether something similar would be appropriate here. Not making cupcakes, that would be a little too cloying, but maybe a $10 gift card to your co-worker’s favorite coffee place or lunch spot as a peace offering. It really smoothed things over with the daycare lady, but then again, an in-home daycare is much more causal than your typical office environment. So I’m unsure if that would be over-stepping.

    1. some1*

      What a sweet story, Ann. Years ago my next door apt neighbor had a loud party that went really late. I could still hear laughing, loud conversation and music at 3;00 AM. I pounded on the wall (which I admit is passive-agressive) but they didn’t quiet down. The next day my door mat had been switched with a neighbor on the other end of the floor (I thought it was stolen at first.)

      A day or so later, my neighbor left me a note apologizing for his guests’ noise and door mat switching and he left me a bottle of wine! I was really touched.

      1. jmkenrick*

        Once, me and my roommates were chatting and laughing in the backyard when someone knocked on our fence. We saw a man in scrubs quietly explain that he was a vet on a home visit, and our neighbors were saying goodbye to their beloved pet. Over the fence we could see a woman laying on the ground, gently stroking her cat while her husband stood, tearful, over her.

        We quieted down and later left them a card and flowers. They responded a few days later with a bottle of wine.

    2. Rayner*

      I wouldn’t. Given that they are coworkers, it would seem a little grovelling to me to bring a gift. In your situation, the other person had a position of power, because they were able to choose whether or not to kick your child out of day care.

      Perhaps, if I knew this coworker’s coffee order, I might bring that in as a peace offering and opener, depending on our relationship but I wouldn’t bring an outright gift to apologise with. It would undermine me even more than the prank by putting them in a position with more authority than me.

      Also, if this person was male and so was the coworker, it could seem a little awkward to bring in a gift like that. Culturally, it’s not often so common in my experience, which would also be undermining him.

      A sincere, well thought out unqualified apology would go much further, in my opinion.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        Grovelling, that was the word I was looking for. But then again, you could say that the OP needs to do a little grovelling, since the prank ended so badly. A $50 gift card? Yeah, over the top, and would create a weird dynamic. But $10 keeps things on a more even keel.

        I like your idea of bringing the co-worker a coffee or other favorite beverage (like for me, it would be a big Diet Coke, and anyone who knows me at all would know that). It’s thoughtful without overstepping. Or maybe if a Mountain Man guy comes by the office every couple weeks, buying the co-worker their favorite snack.

        1. Rayner*

          No, I still feel that the gift card (or anything that feels ‘gifty’ as though you had to go and specially buy the item outside of normal parameters) would be over the top. This person is a co-worker, and giving a gift with monetary value changes the dynamic.

          Bringing a beverage or an item of food that’s normal for their relationship like coffee, or a lunch item, means that the power dynamic isn’t shifted so far. It’s a ‘nice thing to do’ rather than a ‘Hey look, I went out of my way to do this so I can make a big apology out of it.”

          The kind of conversation they want is: “Hey, Joe, I picked up your panini order at the coffee shop for you. I just wanted to apologise again, sincerely, for what I did. It was really stupid of me, and I’m sorry that I did it. I’ll never do anything like that again and hope that you’re okay now.”

          Rather than anything too big or showy. Bringing a formal gift to that changes that dynamic.

        2. Rayner*

          It was a prank, and the OP should do something to acknowledge their wrong doing but it doesn’t sound like they have an exceptionally close relationship, so bringing gifts would make them significantly under the other person, and that doesn’t sound like a good idea.

          Also, since the other person doesn’t get off scot free – they grabbed the OP in front of clients, and made threats to them – I feel that a gift would mitigate that, too.

          Gift giving is very fraught but buying someone a small token of apology wouldn’t be.

          1. Tinker*

            Is this some sort of alpha/beta thing you’re aiming at here? Because if so, given the nature of what the OP did, I think it’s more misplaced than it usually is to have signaling of power levels as one’s primary concern.

            1. Rayner*

              No, I’m saying that appearing as a groveller will not help this OP’s case. He’s definitely in the wrong, but he’s not there alone, and bringing gifts and worrying about money values affects his standing.

              This was a mistake. A big one, and one that deserves an apology but not one that involves bringing in cupcakes or gift cards. Bringing a cup of coffee and a sincere apology is all that’s necessary if he’s sincere.

        3. CanadianWriter*

          I’d be scared to accept a coffee from a person who thought locking me on a balcony was funny. Is peeing in my coffee funny? Or putting a bug in it?

            1. Ann Furthermore*

              My gosh, you guys consider way scarier possibilities than I do!

              Reminds me of when my mother-in-law asked me once if I wasn’t worried about a raccoon getting into our house through the dog door. And I said, “Well I am now…thanks for that!”

          1. Daria*

            That was my first thought. I hate (HATE HATE HATE) pranks, and I never trust people who pull them on me. I’d dump the coffee in the sink the second his back was turned simply because I could no longer trust that he’d put in salt instead of sugar or something.

          2. fposte*

            I think you’ve put your finger on an underlying factor there–there are usually tacit limits, in a group of pranksters, of what’s okay and what isn’t. If you’re not in the group and you don’t speak “prank,” you have no clue what they think is okay.

            1. Rana*

              “Speaking ‘prank'” – what a perfect way to put it!

              (For the record, “prank” is not my native tongue, at all, and a prank has to be very obviously well-intentioned for me to not feel upset by being the recipient of one.)

          3. Rayner*

            For me, it would depend on the reputation this person had. If they were reputed to be be a prankster, I’d be like, “NOPE, NO COFFEE EVER.” but if it this was a one time thing… I’d be okay with it.

    3. summercamper*

      I agree that this gesture was lovely and absolutely appropriate with your daycare provider, but would likely be out of place in an office environment.

      If you must pacify with gifts, I think it’s better as a follow-up rather than as a part of the initial apology – that way it feels more like a gesture of friendship rather than a bribe.

      1. Ann Furthermore*

        I like Rayner’s suggestion above of picking up a coffee or something similar.

        I wouldn’t normally consider any kind of a gift as part of an apology, but this went so horribly awry, clearly touching some kind of nerve with the co-worker that the OP must have been completely unaware of. So that’s why I thought going above and beyond with the apology would be appropriate in this instance.

      2. Saturn9*

        Thank you. “Bribe” is word my brain was failing to deliver.

        That is the problem with presenting a gift with an apology. Too large a gift can result in “Jane thought she could buy my forgiveness with a $200 Amazon gift card? How insulting.” while too small a gift can result in “Jane thought she could buy my forgiveness with a $5 coffee? How insulting.”

        Let the apology stand on its own. Picking up someone’s coffee can be done any other time.

  14. Anonymous*

    OP, I would without question fire you for pulling this prank. Did the prank-ee overreact a little? Probably. But you do not do stuff like that to people in a professional environment. It is NOT harmless, and it is NOT ok. Plus the guy may have been TERRIFIED, for phobic or justifiable reasons (did he have any way of knowing if he would get off the balcony like… at all?)

    Apologize, explain that you know it was wrong and that you will never do anything like that again to him or anyone else, and for the love of god stop pulling “pranks” like this at work.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow. I can’t think of a single reasonable manager I’ve known who would fire someone for this. Strongly warn them not to pull pranks again, yes, but fire someone on the spot? I can’t imagine that.

      Also, could you Anonymouses please pick user names?

      1. Except in California*

        Why fire when you can talk to an employee?

        This just made me realize why I am so fascinated by the TV show “Highway Thru Hell”. Jaime, the tow operation owner, is really reluctant to fire his guys; he prefers to talk to them, and for a butch guy he is pretty gentle with them. It’s an interesting management style for someone who has to deal with guys that prefer to work independently. But yeah, they pull pranks, always within a certain limit though.

      2. Anonymous (the first one)*

        I guess I can’t see this as a “prank”. I know that’s how the OP intended it, but they’re wrong. This is locking someone somewhere and leaving them there, for an unknown amount of time. As someone said above, this is ILLEGAL behavior because it’s so awful. I may be oversensitive to this because of trauma in my past, but hey, guess what, you don’t know your co-workers pasts, and this one just seems so obviously horrible and cruel that I would never be able to look at this employee again the same way. This is literally the sort of thing that in movies they have the evil kid do to show how bad he is. There’s a a horror-based sci-fi story about how horrible locking someone in a closet is (All Summer in a Day). I need my employees to demonstrate some respect for their fellow employees, and this would blow that completely out of the water.

        1. Jess*

          But you can’t screen for every possible phobia or trauma anyone could ever face…it doesn’t always make sense to determine the gravity of an action by how a rare person who was traumatized by something similar might react. I’m not in any way saying this to defend this prank (or pranks in general); it was absolutely unthinking of the OP. But making a bad judgment call happens sometimes, even to people with generally sound judgment.

          1. Jessa*

            Personally I think locking someone on a balcony ahead of an important client meeting shows a lack of awareness of how business is supposed to work. It’s a lack of understanding of the nuances of behaviour. I’d probably not fire them (although I’d seriously want to, I’d probably run my feelings up against someone else because I know how this stuff badly triggers me.) But a PIP? Probably. I would be waiting for their next odd thing to happen and trying to stop it before it does.

        2. The Real Ash*

          Isn’t the employee grabbing the prankster and pulling them around and then threatening them also>/i> illegal? Why do they get a pass here if we’re trying to play Imaginary Police Officers?

          1. Jessa*

            Okay, yes it was wrong and also technically illegal. But if the employee is usually levelheaded, I’m more inclined to be lenient to the person pranked than the person DOING the pranking. I’d still have a sit down with them and explain that no, even if you’ve PTSD we need to work on your reaction to stress. But unless they do this a lot, I’m probably going to let the reaction slide.

            1. Anna*

              If you’re willing to let assault slide and fire or punish harshly the person who did the prank, then I worry you have no concept of scope and maybe you shouldn’t be in charge of people.

        3. fposte*

          “All Summer in a Day” isn’t about how horrible it is to lock somebody in a closet, though–it’s about what it makes her miss while she’s in there (and the envy, of course).

          I think it can be hard to differentiate between “I would/wouldn’t have found this really upsetting” and “This is/isn’t a horrible action.”

          1. QualityControlFreak*

            “All Summer in a Day” is the first real horror story I remember reading. Seriously horrified, then and now.

            1. Blue Anne*

              Gods. I read that story when I was a kid and had completely forgotten it. Yet knew exactly which one you guys were talking about from these comments. *shudder*

        4. Aisling*

          It’s not illegal, because the intent to be evil is not there. It’s just in very poor taste. And what would be the reason for firing?

          1. Cara*

            You don’t have to have an intent to do evil to commit a crime. Stealing bread is still a crime if your intent is to feed the hungry. Statutory rape is a crime if the victim is underage, even if it’s consensual. And this… intentionally locking someone on a balcony… this is pretty heinous. I’m surprised to see so many people think this is no big deal.

            1. Aisling*

              Stealing bread is depriving the store of it, so yes, a crime. Statutory rape is always a crime. Playing a prank, even in poor taste, in which no one was hurt? It’s absolutely deplorable, but it is not a crime. I wouldn’t call the police and waste their time when they’re trying to spend resources looking for people who have actually committed crimes. I’m not sure why so many people are so quick to involve the police. The punishment should fit the crime, and wanting to send someone to jail for this is quite an overreaction.

              1. Jessa*

                Just because it’s a crime does not mean you have to report it or that the police will take an interest in it. Zillions of things are actual crimes that never get reported or acted upon because they do not reach a certain level of social need to be acted upon. That doesn’t change the facts however.

      3. Jamie*

        I agree with this – strong warning putting the kibosh on pranks for sure – but I don’t see where this rises to the level of firing someone.

        The OP knows it wasn’t the smartest thing to do – he won’t do it again.

        Personally, while the prank would have more than annoyed me, the reaction of the prankee is what disturbs me. Laying on of hands and threats of violence…that’s a much bigger issue as far as I’m concerned.

        I agree that the OP should apologize since he started it – but IMO he’s also owed an aplogy for how the other person reacted. Definitely don’t ask for one – but it’s owed.

        I know a lot of people are talking about phobias and yes, that can cause a visceral panic reaction. I have a weird aversion/phobia that comes up at work sometimes and if people put that item on my desk to prank me I would have a completely disproportionate reaction to that…but that doesn’t excuse me from having to keep my hands to myself not threatening violence.

        I’m responsible for managing my own irrational fears – even if they are triggered inadvertently by someone else. (And yes, the action was deliberate the OP hasn’t mentioned anything about a fear of heights so the prank didn’t involve deliberately triggering that – so it would be inadvertent.)

        1. Windchime*

          I’d be interested to know the reality of the “grabbing” and “yanking”, though. It seems if the OP had literally been grabbed and yanked away from a conversation, that would have raised some concerns from the client s/he was conversing with. Maybe it’s just me, but I sense some minimizing of the “prank” as just harmless fun and some possible over-emphasis on the reaction (yanking and grabbing). Maybe it’s just me.

          1. Desdemona*

            Exactly! I’ve just come back from the “update” thread (yes, I know this is now a year old, but if I’m reading it, maybe other newbs are, too), but now that I’ve read how the OP chose to handle the situation, I think your comment is spot on.

            The OP showed he doesn’t get the magnitude what he did to his coworker, literally locking him out of a meeting with clients. “The apology was made…”? And then to just ignore the situation he created by his own terrible judgement? The OP himself goes on to describe the target’s other relationships as congenial, and says he’s excluded from that congeniality, so I think it’s safe to infer the target doesn’t routinely assault his coworkers and hasn’t lost their respect for his handling of this “prank.”

            At this point, if it were my business, the OP would be gone. He’s shown himself unable to take ownership of his actions. He needed to make an honest apology, and to work to restore the professional relationship his bad behavior broke. Now I don’t believe for a second this was just a prank. Calling it a prank minimizes his own culpability, and others here have fallen victim to taking him at face value. His letter was seeking advice for how to punish the coworker for his reaction. (“It was just a joke and he assaulted me!”) The update demonstrates that he’s taken no action to make it right. Why should anyone presume he hadn’t been exaggerating the target’s response all along, as well?

      4. Anonymous*

        I hope to God my manager wouldn’t put up with someone doing this. If I ever go off the rails so badly that I start bullying my coworkers, I should be fired.

        1. Anonymous*

          Not that anyone in the OP’s story should be fired – But I do think this deserves to be taken seriously, if it’s brought to a manager’s attention.

        2. RG*

          If it happens multiple times, then it’s bullying. A one time event doesn’t quite rise to that level.

          1. Jessa*

            I disagree. One incident can rise to that. A bully does not have to keep doing things to still be one.

            1. Saturn9*

              No. Regardless of this new tactic of referring to any unpleasant action or speech as “bullying” in an attempt to shut down that action or speech, bullying is similar to harassment in that there must be repeated acts (or threats to act) in order to meet the basic definition.

          2. Anonymous*

            True. I used “bullying” really casually, because that’s what this reminded me of.

    2. V*

      It’s the timing of the “prank” that makes this a firable offense in my view. The OP notes that the clients were already there for the meeting; by keep the co-worker away from the meeting, with the potential that he would be late/miss the meeting if no one else had unlocked the balcony door, the OP risked making the company look bad. The OP also risked rattling the co-worker before meeting with clients such that he may not have performed well at the meeting – again, potentially making the company look bad.

      1. Jessa*

        Not to mention if the coworker was considered to be away due to their own negligence (failing to unlock a door that locks automatically before going out it,) or something, it could impact the coworker’s career.

    3. Eos*

      I’d fire the guy who thinks its ok to assault his co-workers as well as to me he’s a scarier guy to have around with his out of control anger issues!

  15. anon librarian*

    I am bewildered and truly am not “piling on” How is locking someone on a balcony minutes before a client meeting a “prank” ?

    My observation of this action is that it is one of an impulsive adolescent not a coworker.

    The reaction of physically grabbing was inappropriate as was threatening in a “hushed tone” although he demonstrated some restraint and awareness on his part.

    Amends are in order. Living amends as in… communicating sorrow for your own actions. Pledging that it will not happen again. Modeling maturity… when a co-worker substitutes the salt for sugar or loosens all the bolts on a desk chair, be the voice of reason who says, this is not appropriate behavior for the workplace.

  16. Anonimo*

    I personally would think much differently about the prankee after such a reaction. Just as we are expected to bite our tongue and respond appropriately to others who don’t act professionally in other situations, that type of reaction just seems ridic to me, even in the worst case scenarios offered in the comments. Putting your hands on someone forcibly? I see that as a more serious error in judgment that a good spirited but inappropriate prank.

    Although I do love a good prank. 0:)

  17. AAA*

    I’m a big fan of pranks. But only when they are actually fun for all involved. My rule of thumb is this: a little momentary discomfort is fine, but unless the person being pranked is going to end up laughing at this, then it’s not worth it.

    I’m not afraid of heights but I can imagine being locked on a balcony being stress-inducing, and I can’t think how I might find it fun or funny later. Being locked out on the balcony and then returning to my desk to find it covered in cupcakes and toilet plungers stuck to the ceiling would be much better. Basically, there has to be something in it for the prank-ee as well as the pranker.

    That said, I agree with everything Alison said. Apologize. Explain you misjudged the situation. And next time make sure whoever is getting pranked is getting something out of it.

    1. Rana*

      Basically, there has to be something in it for the prank-ee as well as the pranker.

      That’s a perfect distillation!

      So, a prank like the one above, with the miniature office stuff, would be fun. Or one like the weird jelly beans, in which everyone in the office is able to be in the position of being in on the joke, not just the butt of it, would be okay too.

      But when one person is the target, and it’s not fun for them… ugh.

    2. Jamie*

      I am not a fan of pranks, mostly because I tend to find them stupid rather than funny – but you hit it dead on with that there has to be something in it for both sides.

      I come from a childhood/adolescence where when you made a team in school or your team makes regionals or state your house gets t.p.ed. So it’s a badge of honor (and a horrific mess to clean up so do not try selling the honor stuff to my mom – she would have appreciated a congratulatory greeting card much more.)

      But I know I’ve read somewhere as a kid (I want to say one of the Judy Blume books, but won’t swear to it) that tping a house was an insult – done to mock someone who was unpopular.

      When I made poms my first year I couldn’t have been happier to see my yard covered in Charmin. Because there was something in it for me – and I’m aware that it’s bizarre how toilet paper was a status symbol for us – but it was. If it wasn’t a “thing” and I had to try to determine if it was meant to be funny or mean I’d have been mortified.

      I don’t think I’ve ever pulled a prank – except tping someone’s house and it’s not a prank if it’s a ritual. Prank calls in junior high – but that’s it. My sense of humor runs the gamut between dark and sarcastic (high filters at work) and lolcatz…but pranks just don’t do it for me.

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        Was the book Blubber perhaps? I remember someone’s letterbox got egged in Blubber but can’t remember now if that guy got toilet papered. He may well have been though.

  18. MR*

    Let’s not draw and quarter the OP. S/he came to Alison with their tail in-between their legs, realizing that what they did was wrong and wanting to know how to best navigate going forward.

    Take Alison’s advice, apologize and move on. This will blow over and presuming you learned your lesson, things should be just fine – as long as there is not a repeat incident. Good luck!

  19. sam*

    I find that what most people describe as “pranks” are nothing more than bullying behavior that puts the obligation on the pranked-upon to be both the butt of the joke and when they don’t appreciate it (which is more often than not) they get to be painted on an ongoing basis as a humorless killjoy. People who pull pranks, particularly when they don’t know with 100% certainty that the prank-ee will actually find it funny, are assholes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Come on, assholes? What about when the person being pranked enjoys it? I’ve certainly been on that side of it. You have to know your culture and the person you’re pranking.

      1. Us, Too*

        I kind of agree with sam here. If you prank someone and you’re not sure that they’ll find it funny, I do think it becomes more of a bullying/asshole motif than a prank. Pranks are funny to all involved. And in the off chance they go astray – as happened here – the non-asshole move is to IMMEDIATELY apologize profusely and make sure you never target that person again for a prank.

        1. fposte*

          I still think that’s leaving out the whole “possibility of error” thing, though. Take the prank thing out of it and think of giving somebody a present–even if you love the person and know them really well, you may be wrong about what they’ll be delighted to receive.

          1. sam*

            right, but presuming the gift itself is not a prank, the gift may not be to the person’s liking, but it won’t result in public humiliation. which is the point of (most) pranks.

            1. fposte*

              What makes you think pranks are always about public humiliation, though? Cat’s example with her office wasn’t publicly humiliating, for instance. I think this is begging the question a little.

              1. sam*

                I can actually think of one or two pranks that have been pulled at my prior office that I would categorize as “fine” (and funny), precisely because they didn’t involve the humiliation or embarrassment of the prankee (they were on par with office supplies in jell-o). but the example posted was not one of these, and I think most “pranksters” have a highly inflated sense of their own sense of humor.

                1. Jessa*

                  Except that in my last office job the stapler I used was an antique of my grandfathers, that works amazingly well and is designed to staple large piles of stuff. If someone had damaged it in jelly(o), there’d be heck to pay. It’s an Ace Pilot that’s older than I am and the best stapler I’ve ever used. I can staple through the equivalent of the height of a legal pad worth of paper with it. Given the talk on this particular letter I’d be scared crazy that someone would not realise that NO it’s not appropriate to prank that piece of equipment.

            2. Us, Too*

              I don’t know that I’d say that the point of most pranks is public humiliation. I’ve seen plenty of pranks that are private and nobody but the prankee would know about them (other than the prankster).

              For example: changing someone’s background image on their computer screen.

          2. Us, Too*

            I actually think I allowed for the possibility of error – in that if you screw up, immediately apologize.

      2. sam*

        to respond – yes. assholes. you’re point about people enjoying ties right back to my caveat about being sure that the prank-ee will find it funny (i.e., a long family history of everyone mutually pranking each other). If you don’t know the person well enough to know this, then don’t do it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Hmmm. I guess I think that lots of otherwise kind people make mistakes (I certainly do), and it would suck to be branded an asshole for it.

          1. Us, Too*

            I think what makes this “asshole” for me is the lack of immediate apology following realization that the prank wasn’t well received. Sure, normally kind people screw up sometimes, but they generally take immediate ownership for it and apologize.

            1. Aisling*

              I think the LW realized how badly the whole prank went, and didn’t want to make it worse with an apology that might not go well. The fact that the LW wrote in, asking how to best rectify this, shows that the LW understands the gravity of what she/he did. I think she/he should be commended for that.

          2. Jessa*

            I get that Alison, and you’re right it would suck. Which is really why pranks shouldn’t happen in offices, you just don’t know for sure how even people who like them will react.

    2. Mallorie, the (former) recruiter*

      I appreciate your point, but on the other end of the spectrum, I am sometimes annoyed by people who can never take a joke. I think we’ve all been on the wrong side of “oops, I meant that to be funny”. But I’m not a bully or an asshole, and MOST times, its not meant to cause actual harm or hurt feelings (and I say most, because I am sure there ARE assholes and bullies who do it to be mean).

      Also – is anyone else sick of the word bully? Can it be banned yet?

        1. BCW*

          You can say that about anything though. It really depends on your workplace to what is and isn’t acceptable. I mean yes, sexual harassment and that type of thing is always bad. But what one office may find a horrible offense, another could find perfectly acceptable. Don’t tell someone else what they can’t do in their work environment

        2. BCW*

          Posted before I finished. A perfect example is some offices ban microwave popcorn. My office has boxes for free for anyone who wants to make it. Nothing is inherently wrong with either. But you shouldn’t tell me that I should never make popcorn at work just because its frowned upon at your place of business.

      1. Jessa*

        Actually it’s not on the people who react badly. Jokes/pranks don’t belong in offices for just this reason. And it’s not a requirement to “have a sense of humour,” in my lifetime people who have said that to me (that I don’t have one) have usually just done something horrid to me that they thought was funny. The problem is that some people don’t find jokes funny, that’s not a failing in THEM. Intention is not magic. Just because harm is not intended, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

        And while you personally are probably not “this person,” people who tend to say what you did about people not having senses of humour, tend (anecdotally, certainly,) to be the persons most likely to tell/participate in jokes that are only funny to the people doing them, not the people receiving them.

    3. BCW*

      Can we please stop labeling every thing that makes something uncomfortable as bullying. It takes away from what real bullying is.

      1. fposte*

        I agree broadly with your notion there. However, I think it becomes relevant on this question, in that “joking” pranks are pretty common forms of genuine bullying–that’s the standard stuff-the-kid-in-a-locker trope, after all, and presumably none of us think that Carrie should have been amused by her prom.

        I don’t think most people in adult workplaces mean pranks that way, but it’s probably not bad for pranksters to keep in mind that a lot of people’s experience with such humor is in a bullying context, so they’re not necessarily going to default to the assumption that it’s an affectionate gesture.

        1. BCW*

          Well, when I was teaching, for something to be “bullying” it had to be a repeated behavior. This is a one time occurrence (maybe douchey to some people, funny to others). However, even if everyone agreed that it was mean spirited, that one time doesn’t make it into a bullying situation. If someone was bullied as a kid, thats unfortunate, but it doesn’t make every bad thing that happens to them for the rest of their life into bullying.

          1. AGirlCalledFriday*

            Teacher here as well. Bullying does not need to be repeated to be classified a ‘bullying behavior’. Bullying is a power play that is designed to hurt, embarrass, upset, or otherwise emotionally or physically damage someone. A prank can be bullying, and I agree that this particular one is.

            1. BCW*

              Completely disagree. If someone beats someone up one time for whatever reason, I wouldn’t call that bullying. I’d call that a fight where someone won and someone lost. A joke that someone takes badly if done once and not again, is also not bullying, just bad judgment.

              1. AGirlCalledFriday/Teacher/International Teacher*

                On taking a second look, BCW, you are technically correct – bullying needs to be repeated to be classified as bullying. However, while I think perhaps there is a misunderstanding as to what bullying is, I think we can all agree that there are many behaviors that make us feel bullied, even if they have only occurred once.

                For example, if you are called a name because you decided to do something other than what was desired, if someone taunts you in an effort to get a reaction, if someone spreads a rumor about you, if someone threatens to spit on you or otherwise threatens you in order to try to manage your actions, if someone makes an inappropriate or embarrassing comment in an effort to gain the upper hand, these can all feel like bullying behaviors. Personally, I’m not bothered by people misunderstanding the exact definition of bullying.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Which could describe OPs coworker to a T. If this person’s life experience has involved any amount of bullying that would give the coworker’s reaction some context, at any rate.

          If a person is bullied in school it could take decades to heal that.

          1. fposte*

            Maybe, but it’s still out of line to lay hands on somebody afterwards. Being unhealed doesn’t justify that.

    4. Anonymous*

      I mostly agree.

      Pranks and jokes are fun.

      Random mean behavior that we’re supposed to call “pranks” because the person doing it is laughing aren’t.

  20. Kobayashi*

    I don’t really like adding on to “I agree,” but I do. Apologize sincerely. But I do want to add it is not appropriate to physically assault someone and threaten them with bodily harm in the workplace. That’s a workplace violence issue. OP, your prank was wrong, and you recognize it, so just apologize and don’t do anymore office pranks at all, to anyone, ever (because it seems you don’t have a good grasp of what is appropriate and what isn’t, so just steer clear of pranks entirely). Don’t report his behavior to the HR at this point. If, after you apologize, he gives you further cause for concern through direct actions (such as physically touching you or threatening you), then it’s time to report it to HR, and when you do, make sure you tell the whole truth and state up front that you know what you did was wrong and have never and will never do anything like that again.

  21. LCL*

    ” I don’t know how to gauge whether it was said on the spur of the moment emotional anger or out of seriousness.”

    It was both. I have had certain situations arise where I got very angry. Then I threatened physical harm, because I thought I had to in order to protect myself. The situation you described doesn’t require any deeper analysis than you scared him and he reacted with the flight-or-fight response.

    1. Anonimo*

      Well, there was clearly no instance of the “prankee” needing to protect themselves as you describe, so yea… not sure the comparison works.

      1. Zillah*

        I dunno, I think there is – protect themselves from having something like this happen again.

        1. fposte*

          At that point, though, you’re no longer talking about a spontaneous reaction and you’ve lost the law’s backing on “self-defense.” We really don’t get to resort to threats of physical harm to be sure people don’t repeat an action.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I would feel physically threatened by being locked in somewhere. For numerous reasons, not just my fear of heights and worry from being locked in.

      I don’t think I would physically handle the offending party however. (At least I hope not.) When I was in my early 20s an older coworker thought it would be hysterically funny to lock me in a walk in freezer. I didn’t cuss or raise my voice. I did not touch my coworker but I let the coworker know that I expected better behavior out of him than that and I fully expected to never have another episode of this type of thing again.

      And that was the end of that.

      But every time I worked with the guy I was always looking over my shoulder. I had to push the door really hard to keep him from closing the door on me. It took most of my strength. (I was really scared.) It was quite a while before I felt I could trust him.

      I can’t throw rocks from my glass house at OPs coworker. I’m not saying it’s right. But I can understand the reaction.

      No snark intended here, but how could the coworker conveyed to OP that this was very uncool and OP would have just calmly realized “yeah, I reeeally should not have done that. I won’t do that to you or anyone else again.”

      I got lucky that my coworker understood my words. He didn’t really apologize but he never did it again, either. I honestly wondered if my words were enough when I was dealing with the situation though.

      1. TL*

        Uh, violence does not assure you won’t see that behavior again or that they’ll take you seriously any more than a serious conversation would. (And probably less. A lot of people have a very bad reaction to feeling physically threatened. It makes me stupidly angry; I don’t get scared, I get determined to show that person that they can’t push me around just because they’re bigger and stronger than I am.)

  22. Sunflower*

    I think OP overstepped and I’m not the biggest fan of pranks unless they are extremely obvious and don’t take time of out my day. However, I’ve heard of MUCH worse pranks and I think if he apologizes, the coworker will apologize for his action as well and I could see them still maintaining a relationship after this.

    I also think there is a big difference between pulling a prank on someone once or twice and becoming the office prank target. Once you are picked on a few times, and no one else really is, then it becomes borderline abusive. Also pranks are like jokes in that people often pull them only on people they like. No one jokes about hating someone to the face of someone they actually hate so if you do get pranked on, it’s probably because people like you and get along with you. Not saying that makes it okay but it doesn’t mean people hate you and are trying to ruin your life

    1. Rana*

      if you do get pranked on, it’s probably because people like you and get along with you

      …that… has actually not generally been my experience. Maybe some people are lucky that this is how pranks have been for them, but those of us who’ve been in, let’s say, less secure social positions, may have more mixed feelings about being the butt of a group’s jokes.

      1. Zillah*

        Ditto. My experience has generally been that if you get pranked or made fun of, it’s because people don’t like you or are trying to exclude you.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This. And it all boils down to life experiences, I guess. I have always read pranks as a disliking or a contempt. OP, this person is a new hire. Perhaps this is his life experience, there’s no way to be sure.

        I have not had too many pranks played on me but each one has been a challenge. It’s not funny to take my wallet and hide it. It’s not funny to spike my husband’s drink. (Diabetic. Yeah, I actually had to explain about alcohol and diabetes because the connection just was not there for this individual. And this was a mandatory work party. Fun times.)

        My advice to OP is to learn about humor. If you can’t deliver a joke/prank well, then don’t do it. Learn from people who do know. It’s fine to joke at work. But there is always a line.

  23. Grey*

    This situation clearly calls for a mediator.

    No. I’m not serious. Just apologize, shake hands and be done with it.

  24. Seal*

    As someone with an extreme fear of heights plus often-severe performance anxiety, being intentionally locked on a balcony right before a big event would put me over the edge, too. While I don’t condone physically yanking someone away from a conversation, I wonder if the “threat of physical violence” was along the lines of “if you ever do something like that again, I’ll kick your [backside]!” In other words, something that was said in the heat of the moment. Not that empty threats are acceptable, either, but if one of my employees pulled a stupid stunt like that I would most likely focus on the behavior of the pranker rather than the prankee.

    OP – you need to offer a sincere apology and assurances that you’ll never do something like that again.

    1. QualityControlFreak*

      I wondered that myself. A long time ago I had a coworker who seemed to feel it was okay to put his hands on me. When I told him to knock it off he asked if I was going to turn him in for sexual harassment and I said “No, but if you put your hands on me again I’m gonna knock you on your ass.” He laughed it off, but it never happened again. Now, I didn’t touch him and I said what I said very pleasantly, but honestly I’m not sure it was an empty threat. I was very young.

  25. SimpleeInspired*

    Even if it was my best friend that did this to me, I would be spitting mad at her. Especially if it was before a major event like a company function. A sincere apology is most definitely necessary. You should also keep in mind that depending on the severity of the underlying reasons for his reaction, you may or may not be able to salvage your relationship with him.
    On a side note, you’re treating a coworker you stated as not knowing all that well like you would a frat brother. A reevaluation of how you separate your professional and personal life may be needed. From the scenario you presented, that line seems blurred to me.

  26. Red Librarian*

    The fact that your other co-worker later mentioned that you probably shouldn’t have locked the door suggests that perhaps there is a piece of information the OP wasn’t privy too — as others have suggested a fear of heights or claustrophobia, perhaps a similar incident from childhood, etc. While some may argue the victim of the prank over-reacted, it’s not as if someone can control a flight or fight response when put in that position. Without knowing a person’s history, jokes or things that you may find innocent hit hard.

    Honestly, though, unless you know for sure the person appreciates pranks, the work place is not the place to try them out. I have a healthy sense of humor and joke around with my co-workers all the time, but I find pranks to be demeaning and belittling and embarrassing and would be equally upset if someone thought it was appropriate to pull a prank on me, especially if it was during work hours and right before a work function.

  27. A Teacher*

    Maybe because I teach high school, but this reminds me of something freshmen boys would pull on one another. Pranks can be–rarely, IMO–funny but something like this isn’t funny for so many reasons. I’m not saying that the OP deserved to be threatened but I also wonder if the reaction was a fight or flight response. Hopefully it is a good take home for the OP to NEVER do this type of stunt again. Unfortunately, what can seem “funny” may not be because you don’t know someone else’s response or their background.

    It also may not be bullying in it of itself, but it is something a bully would do and if you were ever the victim of one, something like this can trigger a response you wouldn’t expect.

  28. Decimus*

    The OP needs to apologize.

    The coworker over-reacted – but I too would like to know how the co-worker DID get off the balcony. Did the client let him in? That would be horribly embarrassing. Did he climb down from a second-floor balcony, possibly in nice clothes? I can see that being infuriating.

    The actual grabbing-the-arm is what makes the co-worker’s action too much even so. But it is the OP’s place to apologize, or at least apologize first.

  29. Just a Reader*

    This is one of the meaner things I’ve read about on this blog. Locking someone on a balcony is nowhere near jello-ing their stapler. Not just the action–but the fact that the coworker presumably needed to be focused and on the ball in front of clients and the OP pulled the rug out from under him.

    I have a crippling fear of heights and this would have me completely unraveled.

    Agree about the apology. And be prepared for the relationship with this coworker to be damaged for the long term, if not permanently. Trust takes a long time to rebuild.

    I think I come across as unfunny and prissy here–so saying that I HATE HATE HATE pranks at work isn’t going to help my case–but there are plenty of funny things to share and do with coworkers without making them feel like their safety is being threatened.

    1. The Real Ash*

      This is one of the meaner things you’ve read on here? Not the stories of gossiping and bullying and being forced to resign and having your stuff stolen, but this?

      1. Corporate Public Relations Specialist*

        I didn’t say there were no other mean stories–only that this one struck me. What about that is unbelievable?

        1. Laura*

          Its not unbelievable, but when you’ve read stories about coworkers purposely eating gas-inducing foods in a shared office to induce the woman to leave a company, because she doesn’t belong here; of bosses screaming at employees until they break down crying; etc., then this just seems a bit more innocuous is all.

          1. Just a Reader*

            Good thing we’re all able to have differing opinions. I tend to think all but the most innocuous pranks have mean undercurrents.

          2. Kelly L.*

            We also haven’t all read all the posts. There are hundreds, and sometimes you miss some.

      2. Jeff A.*

        Ya, I disagree with Real Ash about the appropriateness of the prank, but I don’t think the OP’s intent was to be malicious. The OP’s judgment was off, but s/he wasn’t deceiving coworkers out of money for fake funeral expenses and buying a powertool for her husband instead.

      3. Turanga Leela*

        For a lot of us, this story touches a nerve. The gossiping, bad managers, stealing, etc. is stuff I could handle. But being locked on a balcony before a meeting would make me feel trapped and helpless in a way that would terrify me. It’s the sort of thing I have nightmares about. Based on other readers’ comments, I’m not alone in this set of fears.

        Please note that I’m not condemning the OP, who may not have intended any harm. I’m just saying that yeah, this troubles me more than a lot of the letters I’ve read on AAM.

  30. Liz*

    I’m very curious about this phrasing:

    “He got out a few minutes later, grabbed me by my arm hard, and yanked me away from a conversation with a coworker in a room of clients.”

    So the OP didn’t actually let him back in the building? Someone else did, or he managed to get back in himself? Was the OP talking to the same clients that the coworker was also supposed to be talking to? Was the OP actually not planning on letting him back in the building before the meeting started?

    I’m not trying to read into something that’s not there, but the whole situation sounds somewhat suspect to me. As described, it doesn’t really sound like something that was meant to be a harmless prank.

    1. Jaimie*

      Yeah, agreed. To me, it sounds like more than a prank. A prank is meant to be harmless. But the OP made it to the client meeting on time, and the “victim” didn’t. It sounds a little harsher than a prank. A prank would be walking around the corner, waiting half a minute, and then running back to unlock the door.

      And also, I get the part about “know your audience”, but that’s in the context of there not being repercussions. I don’t know anyone who would think it was funny to miss a client meeting like that. It’s not hard to predict that that the guy was going to be pretty upset, because he wasn’t just embarassed, he had to deal with being late.

      All the way around, it’s not the kind of thing that belongs in the office.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        “I don’t know anyone who would think it was funny to miss a client meeting like that…”

        Was OP trying to get the new hire in trouble for missing a meeting?

        This part seems unclear to me.

      2. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I was looking to see if someone pointed this out as well. OP locked the coworker out and LEFT him there? So beyond a prank. Looking back on workplace pranks that were actually funny vs ones that spiraled out of control, one of the key aspects I see in hindsite is that the person pulling the prank was right there when the prank happened (or around the corner) so that if the prankee started to flip out the prank-er could immediately step in and fix it. Leaving the prank-ee to flip out for any period of time also escalates any situation from “harmless prank” to cruel, IMO. I had coworkers that liked to prank me by telling me they’d screwed up a task I’d asked them to do, and then watch me momentarily flip out. Their screw up was usually so monumentally over the top it was obvious after I thought for a second that I knew it was a prank – but the one time I DIDN’T realize it was, they immediately corrected me – they didn’t leave me to flip out and make an idiot of myself trying to fix a mistake that didn’t actually happen. If they had, I would have put it in the same category of “cruel” as the OP’s prank here, not “harmless” as it was in our case.

    2. Jeff A.*

      I didn’t even catch that the first time through. Ya, that would piss me off something fierce if I had to be let back in by someone who didn’t have anything to do with the prank, then find the prankster chatting away unconcerned that I might still be locked on a balcony.

    3. Red Librarian*

      I agree. I hope the OP returns to shed some light on this part because I was bothered by that, too.

    4. Mallorie, the (former) recruiter*

      Yeah, and I don’t think the “grabbing” and “threat” were serious… I think they were an emotional on-the-spot reaction to being supremely freaked out. I’m not saying either side was right or wrong, but I am saying that if someone filled my desk drawer with spiders, I could NOT be held responsible for what would come next – I would freak the eff out and be completely out of my mind. That’s what this sounds like.

      1. TL*

        Having someone grab you by the arm and physically force you out of a room is a big deal. I’ve had people try to physically coerce me into doing things or not doing things. It’s unpleasant. (And it makes me incredibly angry.)
        And following it by threats of violence?
        Look, I probably wouldn’t take someone saying, “Do that again and I’ll kick your a$$” seriously – unless they had just demonstrated that they were, indeed, willing to use physical force against me.

        I’m also going to point out that, with the exception of my brothers (who don’t count), I have, my entire life, managed to make people realize they’ve crossed a line without having to resort to violence or threats. Many of the readers here, I imagine, have had similar experiences.

        1. Jessa*

          I’m debating the OPs phrasing. It could be anything to taking their arm and gesturing out of the room to a full on grab and yank. But I think the idea from the pranked person was to get the OP outside the room to have a conversation that the OP wanted to avoid completely. I don’t think it was an attacking grab and pull. But I bet the OP was hoping that by being in a room full of customers they’d get away with what they did because the prank-ee would not confront them there. The prank-ee neatly avoided this by taking them out of the room.

          1. TL*

            I don’t react well to people touching me out of anger. It’s never appropriate. But I think the “grabbed my arm (hard)” was clear enough. Whether the coworker yanked or not, there was at the very least enough pressure to suggest pain if Prankee didn’t comply.

    5. Gilby*

      Like I said in an above post….

      The OP locks the door. And then walks away? And doesn’t return? We know the OP didn’t return because the OP admitted they were having a conversation and “suddenly” the co-worker was there. ” He got out a few mins later” .

      The OP is acting so casual about it…. ” Yeah…. locked him out… ..yeah… talking to clients/co-workers and wow… look here, the co-worker I lock out just showed up….hhmm must have gotten himself out”.

      There is no mention of… ” OMG I was side tracked by a client… Oh… my boss needed me and I couldn’t get back to my co-worker quick enough..” Nothing. Just a.. He got himself out and was mad at me.

      Things don’t make sense with this.

      1. fposte*

        I do wonder if what made it a prank in the OP’s mind is the fact that it screwed with the client contact. If so, that’s pretty downplayed as a factor in her account.

        1. Anonymous*

          It sounds like the OP didn’t think about that aspect of it. Now I’m wondering about the coworker who egged OP on. But maybe the screw-up with clients was a total accident.

          1. Gilby*

            The OP ” accidentally” forgot he locked someone on a balcony? He never let him out.

            I am truly not trying to ” pile” on the OP. I swear I am not. But a lot of people here are not looking at the fact the the OP LEFT the co-worker there.

            Maybe I am just being dumb. I get the inital thining of the prank to lock someone on a balcony. I don’t get not letting them back in.

            1. TL*

              OP may have known someone else was about to walk by who would let the coworker out.
              Or maybe not. But it is a possibility.

            2. Turtle Candle*

              Yeah, this bothers me a good deal more than the “locked him out on the balcony” thing. Locking someone out as a prank may not go over well, but I think there’s a significant difference between locking someone out as a joke for a short period of time, and locking them out and then *leaving* to go to a function with clients, especially a function with clients where the coworker was expected to be as well. How could that be a mistake? Surely, even if the clients are early or something, if you go “oh crap, the clients are here,” you’d think to let out a coworker who was also supposed to meet with them? (Not to mention that locking someone somewhere and walking away is a bit iffy from a safety standpoint–yes, that probably sounds alarmist, but nevertheless.)

              I feel like I must be missing something here, because that seems, to me, to take it from “a prank that may not have been well-received” to “actually interfering with their work,” and in a way that might make the coworker (or even–depending on the situation–the company) look bad. It’s that, not hypotheticals about phobias or panic disorders, that makes this different (to me) than “replaced my desktop with a picture of a desktop” or “changed all my computer sounds to duck quacks” or “swapped out all of my office supplies with duplicates painted electric green” or “filled my office with balloons”-type pranks. It doesn’t excuse threats of violence, but it does seem rather different in that context than what I’d usually think of as a prank.

              1. Jessa*

                And honestly I’m not so sure about the “violence,” I wonder if the prank-ee getting the OP out of the room with the clients was far less violent than the OP made it sound. People do tend to exaggerate things that make them look better than they should. I mean if I had just been locked out, I would want to talk to the OP and NOT want to do it in front of customers. If the OP wanted to stay where there were customers to protect themselves from being called on what they did, I can see where leading them out might be a thing.

                1. Eos*

                  I’m sorry, no matter why you want to talk to me at work, if you touch me to lead me there by the arm, we’re going to fall out, and it’s going to end just as badly for you as it does for me. Nothing gives you the right to touch or forcibly lead someone anywhere. If you want to speak to someone in private at work you say ‘can you come speak to me in private I need a word.’ If the person says no you might say ‘it’s urgent it really needs to be now’ but at no point do you gain the right/authority/justification to grab them and lead/drag them away. Not for any reason. Not even if it’s not violent it’s just you’re going to come with me now. Not your call to make.

  31. Mephyle*

    Is there anything that needs to be said that hasn’t been said yet?

    Even if Prankee was a tightrope walker who might adore hanging out on a high balcony, that doesn’t make it any better. So, fear of heights could have made it worse, true, but even if he lacked fear of heights, that doesn’t mitigate the act any: OP sabotaged Prankee’s proper carrying out of his job in a way that directly detrimented Prankee’s interactions with his client. Grown-ups who have real jobs don’t do that, and should know that already.

    I can understand Prankee’s “over”reaction quite well. For OP to think in any way, shape or form that what they did was “not too bad”, “funny” or “acceptable”, it’s implausible that a simple “hey dude, not so cool, don’t do it again please” would make much of an impact.

    1. Anonimo*

      I disagree with your last paragraph. You don’t get to escalate to getting physical and threaten the coworker just because you don’t think they’ll really understand how mad you are. Escalate to a manager or HR or whatever, but there are lines for an appropriate response.

    2. TL*

      I said this earlier, but I’ve gone my whole life successfully letting people know they’ve crossed a line (and stopping inappropriate behaviors from re-occurring) without resorting to physical violence or threats. I don’t think mine is an unusual experience.

    3. Mephyle*

      Anonimo: We don’t disagree that much. To me, understanding the reaction is different from justifying or excusing it.

  32. Sanonymous*

    Most people are mentioning a possible fear of heights – but I would get really po’ed by being made late to a meeting. I’m a punctual person and I would lose my top!

    That said, it’s an inappropriate reaction to an inappropriate action. I think the way the co-worker reacted is understandable, but that doesn’t make it right either. OP, I would let their behavior go, and as the chorus says, apologize.

    1. Kelly L.*

      +1 Yup. I don’t really think we have to decide that only one person was in the wrong here–that’s a false dichotomy. They were both wrong. And I think the prank was a bad idea even without the speculations regarding phobias.

  33. Tiff*

    The best prank anyone ever pulled on me was a little dish soap in my soda. It tasted a little off, and when I opened my mouth to say “What?” a huge bubble came out of my mouth.

    Now that was funny. But the prankster is also a very good friend of mine – we’d known each other for years before working together and I used to crash at her place regularly.

    It sounds like OP just didn’t know the prank victim that well, and also forgot the golden rule: nothing is funny when you’re messing with money. Like Allison pointed out he may have been on thin ice with meeting prep, or perhaps he was just nervous about it. Either way the OP threatened his professionalism with her prank. No bueno.

    I agree with apologizing. A nice card may be the way to go.

    1. CanadianWriter*

      I played that prank on my dad when I was a kid and he pretended to be dead to teach me a lesson!

  34. A Bug!*

    I love good pranks. But to me, there is no such thing as an objectively good prank. Why? Because whether or not a prank is good depends on how the prank is received by its target. It’s half the difference between laughing at someone and laughing with someone. If you find yourself insisting that a prank was a good prank even though your target took it poorly, then no, it was not a good prank.

    If you pull a prank on someone you need to be ready to own the consequences. That means not pulling pranks on someone when you’re not really certain that it’s going to be received in the spirit in which it was intended.

    Sorry, OP. I know you meant well but you goofed up. A sincere apology is called for, keeping in kind that your coworker isn’t obligated to accept it. (Nor is he, by the way, obligated to offer his own apology in return. It would be nice, but if he doesn’t, don’t let that reduce your own remorse for your actions.)

  35. Jillociraptor*

    I used to work at a preschool with 2-5 year olds. As you might imagine, there were a lot of conflicts in which both kiddos had done something crummy. You end up in a black hole of nonsense if you focus on who should have done what, and who was most wrong, and why should I get punished when Jimmy was the one who…, ad nauseam. Number one rule of conflict resolution with preschoolers: “Focus on yourself.”* It’s kind of alarming how many lessons from preschool I apply to management, but I guess we never grow out of some human problems!

    OP, If I were your manager, while I would absolutely say that your colleague’s reaction was unprofessional and inappropriate, that’s the extent to which I’d want to hear about your colleague. I would really want to know that YOU understand that your behavior was not appropriate, and hear a genuine remorse for harming your colleague even if his response was too much. I would be really heartened to hear something like, “That was a really bad judgment call on my end, and I’m taking x, y, z steps to rectify that situation”, and really, really irritated to hear you shift blame or not take responsibility for what you’ve done.

    *note that I hope it goes without saying that that doesn’t apply in cases of bullying, etc. or anything one sided and the point isn’t to blame a kid for what happened to him, but to separate their actions from the other child’s actions if both need to be addressed.

  36. summercamper*

    In this situation, time is of the essence. As a prank-hater married to a prank-lover, I can tell you that the amount of time between a spoiled prank and the formal apology is directly proportional to how long it takes me to get over it and truly forgive my spouse for upsetting me.

    So, OP, I think your best course of action is to apologize as soon as you can. The longer you let this fester, the worse it is going to be. Profuse, sincere, and unqualified apologies are your only way out of this mess.

    If you are tempted to hesitate or to be anything less than thorough in your apology, picture yourself sitting across from your manager/ HR director/ etc. after they catch wind of this (which, if your colleague is mad enough, they probably will). There’s a big difference between “I recognized that what I did was wrong and apologized profusely the very next day” and “I thought it would blow over and hid in my cubicle.” Being proactive here will help you with damage control if it ever gets that far.

    1. Celeste*

      Gold star for emotional intelligence!

      I’d kind of been thinking that the prankee could have reported this instead of going to the OP in anger, and the mess would be even bigger.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, I thought the same thing. OP might have gotten a better deal from the coworker than if the boss caught wind of it.

        I had a coworker make an angry gesture at me. Others witnessed it. I mentioned it to the boss. It was not something that would work into anything as a single event. But the boss started collecting up instances of other bouts of anger and that worked into an issue my coworker had to deal with. It wasn’t good. At all.

    2. Us, Too*

      Yes. This, exactly. The shocking part of this to me is that there was no immediate apology. OP probably meant this to be a harmless, funny prank, but as soon as it went south, the obvious course of action would be to have apologized immediately. IMMEDIATELY. I said above (and will reiterate here), that the difference between a kind person who made a mistake and an asshole is that the kind person immediately apologized.

      1. Jamie*

        Sure, an apology is absolutely owed, but it sounds like from the letter that their first contact after the incident was the prankee pulling him by the arm and threatening him.

        I’m not excusing the prank, but as it was intended to be a joke he wouldn’t have known he should apologize until he was made aware the recipient was upset. And that was immediately upon being grabbed and threatened – which will either elicit an appeasement apology to diffuse or any number of confused responses.

        IOW – he didn’t really have a chance to apologize prior to the grabbing/threatening.

        1. Us, Too*

          I get that. (And I want to be entirely clear that I have huge issues with the way the prankee handled this, as well).

          If you are shocked by the person’s (obvious OVER)reaction, sure, take a few minutes (an evening even) to compose yourself. But then you apologize. Sincerely. As soon as you can.

  37. Overkill*

    If I were the OP’s manager and he/she reported the grab to me, I would reprimand the OP, if not be tempted to fire him/her, as the prank could’ve jeopardized our cherished client relationship. This, coming from someone who has been ‘tortured’ in is career for telling colleagues not to touch, grab or stroke me in way way or another.

  38. Laura*

    There are a lot of comments on here about how the OP is an [insert negative adjective] for pulling a prank on this employee when the OP was not sure they would find it funny. This is unfair – the OP has mentioned that they and the employee had a joking relationship, and the OP’s *INTENT* was not malicious.

    I know that intent does not excuse many actions, but as with serious criminal offences (yes, this comparison is appropriate – the OP is on trial here) intent is a consideration, and a mitigating factor when it is positive. Surely the OP’s actions can be mitigated by their obviously harmless intentions?

    Besides, sometimes you think you can judge a person’s sense of humour and they surprise you. I had a coworker who would constantly dish out mock insults and criticisms to me, and would laugh if I returned them. One day, I happened by her desk while she was reading a fashion blog and said “Working real hard over there, eh Colleague?” and she lashed out at me. Furthermore, after I apologized and walked away, when I walked by her desk 20 minutes later she lashed out again. Then she wouldn’t speak to me for weeks. Needless to say, I didn’t joke around with her again after that – but I had every indication she would have found my comment funny.

    I believe a sincere apology from the OP should put an end to the matter. They don’t deserve – as another commenter said – to be drawn and quartered for a well intentioned but poorly executed joke.

    1. Justine*

      Intent in the legal sense does not refer to how the perpetrator wishes for their actions to be interpreted, only the intent to commit the action. In this case, the OP intended to lock their co worker on the balcony (as opposed to accidentally locking their co worker on the balcony, in which case the co worker’s reaction would have been without a doubt over the top.) This was covered in law class with the example of trespassing: you may not realize you are trespassing, but if you intended to enter into an area that you are not allowed in, regardless of whether or not you know it’s private property, it’s still trespassing.

  39. JEC*

    I’m completely mystified by the severity of responses here. The OP knows that they made a mistake (which is not in dispute) and wants to repair the situation. Beyond that, we don’t have the necessary information to justify some of the responses such as that they should be fired or (!) prosecuted for an ill-conceived prank.

    Yes, it’s possible that the victim of the prank has a serious phobia or mental condition that COULD justify their reaction. It’s just as likely that they just have a bad temper, which in NO way justifies their reaction. The OP said that they frequently joke around, and in their mind had reason to think this would be better received, even though they were clearly wrong. Accusations of cruelty or illegality seem absurdly overblown.

    The prank was a bad idea, the OP clearly understands that, and an apology is the best place to start curing the breach in the relationship. Until we have more information from the victim coworker, I don’t see how anyone can say more than that.

  40. Lizzie*

    Goodness gracious, I’m shocked by how strongly some people feel about pranks. Yes, this one was ill-timed and clearly ill-suited to the person being pranked. But false imprisonment? Firing? Seriously? It was a mistake, but it wasn’t cruelly meant, and it really doesn’t justify this kind of overreaction. If you deal with a phobia so severe that it triggers physical aggression, you should seek a skilled counselor- and I’m not saying that flippantly, I mean it sincerely. Phobias are very real, but they are treatable and do not justify physical violence.

    This prank wouldn’t bother me. I recognize that it could bother other people, and it’s not something I’d do to someone. But there are real problems in the world, and true bad people doing true bad things. Is this prank really worthy of the ire it’s provoking?

    1. Arbynka*

      If a co-worker locked me on the balcony before client meeting without bothering to get me out and I was then late to the meeting while co-worker would be already there chatting with clients, that would bother me. The timing of this supposed prank is highly suspicious.

      1. bullyfree*

        Yes, I agree. Switching it around, if the OP was locked out on the balcony by that new coworker and coworker walked away and was talking with clients for a few minutes before OP somehow was let back in, how would the OP react ? Would OP be laughing those “few minutes” left to fare for themselves on the balcony ? SERIOUSLY, I really wonder what would OP have done.

      2. Lizzie*

        It doesn’t actually say he was late, nor that he was even meeting with these clients. There was a “company function” and “clients in the office.” Like I said, this was a bad idea, but I can’t see getting all that upset over it.

    2. Esra*

      It wouldn’t bother you to be late for a client meeting because you were locked on a balcony by someone who went to the meeting without letting you out?

    3. PuppyPetter*

      Alas, we don’t know whether it was “just a prank” or if there was an element of cruelty in it.

  41. AJ-in-Memphis*

    I’d be interested to see an update from the OP. I wonder if A) the co-worker would accept his apology and B) if the managers found out, what their reaction was…

  42. Reix*

    Probably piling on the OP but…

    If one of my reports came to me with this story… I as a manager would be mad at the guy pulling the prank not at the guy that overreacted… Seriously, even if I don’t have all the information, how could it be right to do this just before a meeting with customers? Or at any othe rtime, really?

    So, like almost everyone else, I think you should apologize instead of going to your manager with a story that is likely to reflect worse on you than on your coworker.

    1. Laura*

      As a manager, wouldn’t you at least feel it necessary to address the prank-ee’s threats of bodily harm? Like other commenters, I can understand why the prank-ee may have been angry but I think the threats are going a bit too far.

      1. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

        I was thinking the exact same thing. The prank was very inappropriate and ill timed (it makes it worse that it was right before a client meeting), I think that just about everyone agrees about that, but under no circumstances is threatening workplace violence ok. If I were their manager, that is the conversation that I would be having with both of them. That’s just my take on the situation.

      2. Reix*

        I would address the threats too… but to be honest my first reaction would be to call the OP out on his action. I am not a perfect manager, and I think I would be very angry at the OP, and less so at the other person (with the knowledge I have here & now).

        1. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

          I was actually thinking about this last night. I was making some updates to our employee handbook and we have recently added an anti bullying policy as part of our anti harassment section… anyway, so I asked my manager about the situation and whether his opinion would have been that this would fall under bullying while we were having lunch and he said that his recommendation would have been to fire the OP as it would be considered bullying. Anyway, it had me thinking about things in a different way. I still think that the coworker was wrong to make threats of violence, but I am kind of leaning towards my manager’s thinking about firing the OP for bullying. Anyway, just an interesting topic. Had me thinking :)

  43. JD*

    I come to the office to produce solid work, gain experience, and earn a paycheck. I enjoy collaborating with my coworkers and I’ll occasionally see a few of them outside of work. I don’t have the wording quite right, but office pranks, to me, send the wrong message…? Ack. If you’re looking for a way to build camaraderie, there are plenty of ways to do so other than pranks. Team projects, office lunches, etc.

    That being said, I agree with Alison. Apologize for what you did, not because it upset your coworker. Their reaction beyond that is out of your hands. Hope it all turns out.

  44. Del*

    Wow, I don’t even know where to begin with this. It sounds like everyone acted badly, all the way around!

    OP, I don’t think I need to restate what everyone above has already said, and what you already know — that prank was a terrible idea, in really awful taste, and you should really rethink your pranking strategies in the future.

    However, what this guy did in response was also really not okay or understandable. Being angry, sure. You deserve anger. But manhandling a fellow adult is crossing a severe line as well, and frankly I wouldn’t blame you if you do not feel physically safe around this coworker in the future.

    I’ve dealt with people with that kind of explosive temper before. Whether the reaction is born out of simple anger or out of a phobia or anything else, it doesn’t make much difference to the person being manhandled. Grabbed and pulled? Hell no, that is not okay at all. Adults handle issues like this without resorting to violence.

    OP, if I were you, I’d offer the apology — but also make it clear that you expect your coworker not to lay hands on you in the future.

  45. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Everyone who’s taking a hard line stance on this, would you please do a thought experiment with me? Will you imagine that the OP is actually your good friend or a close family member (who you like), and they come to you and tell you this happened? They appear to realize they made a mistake and feel badly about it. Are you more likely to:

    a. Tell them that they’re a bully / a jerk / deplorable / deserve to be fired

    b. Say something more like, “I think you were really out of line because ___ , and you should apologize. Also, you probably need to realize that you can’t really do pranks on people you don’t know really well, particularly at work!”

    This is a sincere question (although borne of my skepticism that people would really maintain this same intensity of a stance when talking to someone they know and like). I’d love to hear answers!

    1. A Teacher*

      Honestly, in my family, and my family is crazy (one of those families Carolyn Hax gives permission to walk away from, crazy) I would feel a little more of the “A” when my students do this to each other, I tend to take a hard line because I don’t want them to grow up to be the employees that make mistakes like this person did. I totally think the bodily grabbing and pulling was wrong. From my own experiences that I don’t feel comfortable sharing I understand that it my also have been a flight or fight response too.

    2. Dani X*

      To be honest i would be reconsidering just how close I really was to that person. I would tell them B, but the thought of being locked on a balcony with no way in (I am wondering how that co-worker got back in and could he have been out there for hours if someone hadn’t walked by at the right time) terrifies me. And I would be cautious around someone who not only thinks that is funny, he is upset that other people don’t share his opinion on it. I would have to wonder if it is only a matter of time until he does that to me.

      1. Rana*

        Agreed. None of my friends or family do these sorts of things, except one person, and I tend to avoid that individual as a result. The most anyone does is a goofy card or rude gift for a long-time friend’s birthday – and that’s part of an established relationship in which both people tease each other that way. In fact, growing up, my brother and I were told stories about people who pranked other people (like my mother putting salt in the sugar bowl on April Fools’ Day when she was a girl) and those stories always focused on how upset the other person got, not how funny it was.

        1. Rana*

          Adding on to that thought – I think there really is a “culture” or “language” of pranking and teasing, and if you didn’t grow up in an environment where these things were part of your experience, or where that experience was negative, you’re going to view them a lot differently than someone for whom they always had the connotation of goofy fun between people who love each other.

          1. TL*

            Yup. My workplace is super tease-y and one guy just doesn’t get it and can’t take the teasing from anyone but one particular person.

            It sucks, because he wants to hang out with the group that teases and they don’t necessarily want to exclude him; it’s just hard to include him because he doesn’t speak the language and it’s the way the group functions.

    3. Us, Too*

      My husband is a prankster who tends towards jokes that are largely inappropriate for the workplace. Heck, they’re questionable just in our social circle sometimes. Usually he’s pretty good at figuring out who will appreciate his kind of humor and who won’t, but sometimes his aim misses. Badly.

      For the cases in which someone sounds like they were upset by his “joke”, I combined the two. Along the lines of “Whoa, you know I love you and generally think you have awesome judgment, but clearly Wakeen didn’t find your joke funny. I know you meant well, but this was an asshole joke. You’re not an asshole so you should apologize asap if you want to try to salvage a decent relationship with him. Also, I’m sure you know that you shouldn’t be pulling this kind of thing at the office. You do this to the wrong person and they’re going to show you the door.”

    4. Nanayana*

      I’m of the mind set that while you don’t know how someone will react when you play a joke on them, since this was in a place of business or where business was being conducted, the guy should have been more professional with his response. At work, unless you are physically threatened, you do not have the right to put your hands on another coworker, let alone threaten them. That coworker crossed the line big time. I’d have high tailed it to HR. I bet there’s nothing in the company manual that says you can’t play a practical joke, but I bet there’s plenty in there about manhandling your coworkers and threatening them. See, I don’t think people should play practical jokes AT ALL. What’s funny to you may not be funny to the victim and causes laughs and humiliation at their expense. Something is always funny unless it’s happening to you.

    5. Sally*

      Honestly, if one family member did this exact thing to another, it would likely have ended a lot worse and absolutely I’d be calling out the person who did it. But my family is very fragile.

      On the other hand, if someone genuinely realizes they did something wrong, they apologize right there — they don’t go home and ask a website advice column, and then what sounds like spend a few more days not doing anything (reading the OP), before saying something.

      The OP is more concerned with the manager being told about what happened (and look at the reasons why) than about their relationship with their co-worker. They’re not sorry they did it. They’re sorry they might get in trouble.

      1. E. J. Flannery*

        B. “Could you tell me what was amusing about locking a coworker onto the balcony right before a meeting with clients, and leaving him there? I am not seeing how it could be funny. You lock out a coworker, causing him inconvenience; you go away, leaving him trapped and with no choice, causing him irritation; you don’t let him back in, making him late for a meeting with clients, causing him to be really angry at your interference. All in all, it seems you do not value your job, your coworkers, or your company. Please explain how this struck you as a light-hearted prank.”

        1. bullyfree*

          That is what I would have said too. Three years ago, I wouldn’t have said it though. I would have avoided the whole situation. I was bullied in the workplace to the point almost I almost ended my life. In the hospital, there were others like me who had been bullied by family, coworkers or both, who due to PTSD, would absolutely react like the coworker who was trapped on the balcony. OP has no idea what that new coworker had to deal with at last workplace. I would ask OP to really revisit the whole motivation behind the pranks as well as apologize. I would also, apologize to the new coworker for the behavior of the OP and discuss the threats of harm. I would want to understand the experience from their point of view. I would also make sure the new coworker understood threats of harm are taken seriously. I would also meet with both people together, if I felt it was possible.

    6. Anon 1*

      I would be a “B.” I don’t think this is the worst thing some one could do and we all make mistakes. However, I do think I would worry a little bit about their judgment. I know there are people out there that really like pranks but the combination of new co-worker and work event with clients makes this seem incredibly inappropriate. I would only be an “A” if the individual was malicious and wanted to embarrass their co-worker.

    7. Bea W*

      Seriously? B. But then I took B with OP, because it is clear in her letter she feels bad about what she did , admits it was a mistake, and did not mean to hurt anyone.

      I’d be going with A if she still thought it was funny and had no grasp on her part in the whole thing and was insisted she did nothing wrong. Would be going with A in that case even if it were a friend or family member. Not even hypothetically. I’ve certainly distanced myself from a couple people over that kind of thing.

    8. Since you ask*

      I would tell them they were a jerk and are lucky they didn’t get fired, and that they should apologise immediately and stop pulling pranks. And then I’d seriously reconsider how close I could be to them in future if they had had to ask this question.

    9. Not So NewReader*

      I think that I have a hard line stance on this one. I hope if it were may family/good friend I would work at a well-rounded response.

      Just because the OP did not put his hands on the coworker does not mean the coworker did not feel threatened by the confinement OP created. We don’t get to dictate what types of reactions people have. It is reasonable to assume that some people could find being confined to a space, unable to leave, as a threat. Notice, some people but not all people.

      I would go on to explain to my fam/friend that any form of confinement- be it physical or verbally backing someone into a corner with words has the potential of getting a very strong backlash. Notice I say potential. As we see here some people feel it’s not a big deal and some folks feel that this is way off the charts.
      I would advise my person that if you want to avoid being strong armed (literally or figuratively) then you must be careful of other people.

      IF my fam/friend went on to say “oh, Bob at work said I am an AH/jerk/whatever.” At that point, I would probably be feeling a little exasperated and I would say “You opened the door for that remark. We don’t get to control what others say/think.” And I would go back to my saying of “Never allow people to feel cornered or trapped. Never. If you do, there will be fallout.” This can mean physically trapped or using words in a manner such that the person feels cornered.

      OTH, if my fam/friend owned it, apologized for it and changed what they were doing (such as finding different ways to share a laugh with people), then I would be in awe.
      Most of us will step in crap at some point. When a person really thinks it through and really learns from it I am impressed. In a turnabout, I watch how they handled their missteps so I can better manage my own missteps.

      1. fposte*

        As long as we’re thought-experimenting, it might be worthwhile to contemplate how we’d feel if the prank wasn’t something that we tended to have issues with ourselves. So if it was a balloon-pop or fake barf or a rubber tarantula that genuinely upset a co-worker, but our friend was really remorseful that she upset him with that, and we’re not bothered by fake barf , etc., ourselves. Do we still want the OP fired and consider her action deeply cruel?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I don’t think anyone really wants to see someone fired. I think that people can think this is a very cruel action to lock someone out of their work place and still not want them fired. I’d be willing to bet that OPs coworker does not want him fired but just wants OP to watch how far to go with a prank. I think this because coworker would have reported OP by now, if he wanted OP to “be punished”. The coworker is not interested in dragging management into the problem.

          If I am talking to a family member/friend, I am going to come down on the side of staying employed. (Unless there is an illegal or wildly unethical situation going on.) Companies are going to do whatever they chose. It is up to employees to be aware of that.

          My coworker that tried to lock me in the freezer- I don’t remember ever wishing him fired. Probably I felt that firing would not even be on the table for discussion. I just wanted him to stay away from me. I was really frightened by that whole episode because I had never seen my coworker behave that way before. When I finally opened my mouth to speak I made myself pretend the boss was standing right there and hearing every word I said. That was really the only way I could get my words in check.

      2. Jamie*

        We don’t get to dictate what types of reactions people have.

        By reactions do you mean how they feel about things? Because I absolutely agree.

        But if by reactions you mean how they outwardly react, we can certainly dictate what type of reactions are acceptable and not in a workplace.

        No company can prohibit an employee from getting angry. But it can certainly prohibit inappropriate expressions of anger in the office.

        Just like a company can’t insist you stop wanting to prank people, but they can certainly insist you don’t act on it.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Yes, that was ambiguous- I really did not hit my target there:(

          No rule or law is effective in stopping undesirable behavior entirely. Our courts are filled with people who just decided to disregard this law or that law. This is what OP needs to see- that some people will just do as they will.

          Yes, all companies can do is insist that people follow the rules and bat clean-up when people don’t. Do the rules prevent undesirable behavior? Not always. Sometimes all rules do is lay out the next steps if someone does X or Y bad thing.

          I really think that OPs situation is over. The coworker decided to resolve matters himself and not go to management. I think just apologize and be abundantly transparent from here forward.

      3. Cara*

        “We don’t get to dictate what types of reactions people have.”


        This reminds me of something my torts professor would always say: “A kicks B, A pays.” It doesn’t matter if A meant to deliver a light kick and accidentally kicked too hard. It doesn’t matter if B has some rare skin disease that causes excessive bleeding from the slightest impact, and A didn’t know about it. If you deliberately kick someone, you are responsible for the repercussions.

        1. TL*

          If A kicks B and B turns around and kills A, is that okay?

          B is not absolved of their actions because they don’t like what A did. A should never kick B. But B doesn’t get to do whatever the hell they want because they’re now angry or hurt or have emotions about it. There are socially and legally prescribed avenues to follow and they are there for very good reasons.

    10. whimsy*

      I’m really loyal to my friends and family but yeah, I’ve called them out for this kind of thing before especially since sometimes the softer approach might convince them that its not such a big deal.

      At my very first job, my co-workers though it would be funny to lock the mentally challenged person in the walk-in freezer. It got busy and they forgot she was in there and if I hadn’t walked in for supplies she would have been in there a while. Management didn’t do anything and I was too young to know what else i should have done.

        1. whimsy*

          I recall my manager mentioning that it was a one time incident and was not meant with any ill-will.

        1. whimsy*

          Certainly, and category b would usually be the more productive method long term. I understand because this is about pranks then it may be a automatic B for some.

          My best friend was terribly bullied as a kid and probably wouldn’t even let me finish before tearing me a new one and cutting me loose.

    11. LizB*

      If my 16-year-old brother did this to someone, I would tell him he acted like an asshole and a bully, and that he needs to apologize immediately. (So, some combination of the two options.) But honestly, he’s the only one I’m close with who I can imagine thinking this was a good idea, and that’s because he’s 16 and doesn’t always make the best decisions. My friends who like pulling pranks all understand very well where the line is between funny and mean, and that locking someone somewhere and leaving them right before an important event is over that line.

    12. Cara*

      A little bit of both. “I think you were really out of line because that is a terrible thing to do to someone. I personally would be livid if someone did that to me, and I can’t say I’d be able to control my reaction to the perpetrator, so I empathize with your coworker a bit. I strongly consider you to take this seriously and not bring your manager into this, because if your manager feels the same way I do, you could be fired.”

      (The “firing offense” comments seem completely relevant and appropriate to this thread given that the OP asked if OP should involve the manager.)

      Just the other day, my father, whom I adore, made a joke about a recent news story of animal cruelty. I won’t go into more detail than that because I don’t like to think about it, and I told him my feelings pretty clearly. If it made him feel bad, he’s an adult and he can deal with that feeling, but maybe it will make him think twice about joking about that again in a way that just saying “oh, that’s not nice. Let’s talk about something else” wouldn’t.

    13. Newly Unemployed*

      I’m failing to see how A & B are mutually exclusive. You can be a bully/jerk/deserve to be fired while still also needing to examine your behavior and apologize. I would say both things.

    14. Grey*

      Some people would call their own mother a nasty name as long as they could hide behind an anonymous internet ID. It’s not as much about personally knowing the target as it is about shielding yourself from their reaction.

      Friend or not, why not just show everyone the same respect you’d like to get in return?

    15. Annie*

      I would say both A and B to a good friend/family member although instead of labeling the person, I’d label the action (instead of you are a bully, I’d say this is bullying behavior). To me A and B are basically the same thing, honestly. Deplorable action = really out of line. The only difference is that in A, it’s possibly implied that you hope they get fired as well as deserving the firing. If due to more holistic information (good friend/family) I thought the perpetrator was a good person who suffered an out-of-character lapse of judgment, I would still think they deserve to get fired but hope nonetheless that they don’t get fired.

      1. Laura*

        I’d probably do a combination of A and B as well to friend/family. I think it’s much better to focus on the action “That action was horrible and would cause some people to reasonably consider you a jerk.” rather than “You are a horrible jerk”. But none of my adult friends or family have never done anything remotely like this, and I am always honest with the people I care about so I’d go with a “What the hell were you thinking? Why did you think that could possibly be funny?” partially because it’d be out of character for anyone I know. I think that’s why I’d say both A and B…it’d be shocking behaviour from anyone I know . But I think with anyone, saying you acted like a jerk or a bully is different than saying you are a bully.

        I have no idea what I’d do if this prank was pulled on me. I would never threaten violence or touch the person, but I’d probably use language and tone that is generally inappropriate for the workplace, because I’d be so angry and see it as such a violation, and have a hard time understanding why one would consider locking anyone anywhere acceptable. I hate all pranks (which friends or family should know), but usually I can understand why one might enjoy them.

    16. ExceptionToTheRule*

      I’m late to the party because I’ve given this a lot of thought and if it were someone I knew, liked, am related to, or respected coming to me and telling me they did something like this, I’d ask them what the f’ was wrong with them and then tell them they were an a$$hole who needed to apologize.

    17. Jessa*

      My husband knew before he married me (see story above about the potential car prank he warned me about and fixed before it happened.)

      Every 1st April he warns me to stay off the web and does some stupid very, very, very obvious, thing “your favourite show was cancelled,” and says “April Fool,” before I could even react. If he ever pulled a REAL unwarned, prank or joke on me, my next call would be to my family’s lawyer. I’ve been bullied and pranked so much in my life and he knows it. Doing it to me would be SERIOUS cause for divorce. And I’ve dropped friends I’ve had for decades over stuff like this. So yes totally A. I do not take jokes against me or pranks at ALL.

      And them happening at work where to me that’s unprofessional and I believe I’m protected against that garbage BY professionality…again I quit a job with five seconds notice over a boss that did that kind of bully/pranking. I finally told him my father didn’t get to talk to me like that, gathered my things and left.

    18. Kiwi*

      I would tell them that they’re lucky the victim didn’t report them to HR and possibly cause them to lose their job. I would tell them that they’d best apologise and be a lot less twattish in future.

    19. Anonymous Analyst*

      I would go with A: “bully/jerk/deplorable.” I think it’s a know your audience type of thing though. My family is dense and unless you spell it out for them, they won’t pick up the subtle hints in B. (My brother was actually named on an Internet forum about bad bosses and I’m sure he thought the things he was doing was hilarious, but in reality, his employees called him a bully).

    20. Elizabeth*


      There are people who are no longer part of my life who are blood kin or were once close friends because they thought that pranks were something that everyone should enjoy being the butt of. I don’t have the mental energy to deal with never knowing when the next verbal or physical assault is coming from, so I remove myself from their company, usually on a permanent basis.

      There is only one person that I’ve ever allowed back in after instituting that distance, and that is because my husband counts her as one of his best friends. She is very much aware that she only ever has one more chance, and if she ever blows it, she’s gone from my life permanently. She knows that she can’t treat me to the constant barrage of insults and low level pranks that are the cornerstone of her relationship with virtually everyone else in the world. She is now a good friend of mine, and I believe we have a better relationship for having set boundaries on what constitutes acceptable behavior.

      I’ve been accused of not having a sense of humor. I have a great sense of humor. I just don’t believe humor has to involve insulting everyone around you or turning your friends, loved ones and colleagues into a sideshow.

    21. Grandmarnierinmycoffee*

      The violence or threats in the prankee’s response have sure drawn a lot of attention… rightly so.

      However, the violence of the prank itself hasn’t drawn anywhere near enough!

      Here’s another scenario. Your son’s school calls. Another student had locked him in a closet and left him there. He was discovered and released by another student (after only a few minutes). The school has said the prank was really just kids having fun and no one was really hurt. The school doesn’t plan to discipline the prankster.

      Would that be ok with you as a parent? Would you tell your traumatized son that this is really all in fun and it’s how adults behave with each other at work?

      The prank was aggressive, violent (in a broader sense of violence), and physical (locking up or restraining someone is physical). The prankee reacted inappropriately. But, his reaction seems to be in exact measure to the prank.

      1. Anna*

        An extremely broad definition of violence. One so broad it sort of cheapens actual violence.

        1. Grandmarnierinmycoffee*

          Three things:

          1) Yeah, I get that in comparison all the terrible things being done to people by other people, being locked on a balcony may seem quite trivial. I don’t think that taking this situation seriously in anyway cheapens authentic opposition to other forms of real violence.

          2) How broad does the definition need to be? Physically grabbing someone (as the prankee did) is violent in this circumstance. But is that the only kind? Psychological? Sexual? Emotional? Are there more? To be effective, a workplace violence policy has to admit a broader definition of what violence is.

          3) I think this prank was (or may have been) actual violence. I will admit, though, that it’s hard to make a definitive statement about that given only a short and one-sided account of what actually happened.

    22. Meg Murry*

      I’m in between also. I think this is bad enough that the OP should have a step taken on the company’s discipline plan (written warning/PIP – whatever step 1 or 2 are) but not enough to outright fire him on this first offense. If he continued to insist it was funny/he did nothing wrong / the other coworker should be the one punished/he wasn’t going to apologize, then yes I’d flip over to “he should be fired” but otherwise I’d say discipline + B

    23. Eudora Wealthy*

      Since we’re doing thought experiments…. Suppose a fire breaks out while an employee is involuntarily locked on the balcony, and he consequently dies because he cannot escape. Which manager is going to proudly tell the police, the fire marshal, the judge, the public, and the victim’s family that their company is ambivalent about the deceased’s demise because, you know, it was actually kind of a funny prank.

    24. Justine*


      I have done as much in the past. In cases where that person repeatedly exhibited poor judgement I cut them out of my life because I’m not a sounding board for someone else’s inability to take responsibility for their mistakes (I.e. change their behaviour.)

      In cases where it’s only happened once or twice, I went with A., knowing that such behaviour was unusual for that person and that they would be able to handle that honesty. And in cases where I did something similarly jerkish, the people whom I love the most and I’m closest too went with A., and I was grateful for their honesty.

  46. Anonymous*

    Honestly, if I pulled the prank (which I wouldn’t do!) and got that kind of a reaction, I would feel so badly that I would apologize profusely and slink off in mortification.

    I definitely agree with Alison’s advice here.

  47. Nanayana*

    I once pulled a prank on a coworker who had a similar response. He was fairly new to our department and about 10 years younger. Neat guy. We took to each other immediately. He wanted me to meet and become friends with his wife and that’s exactly what happened. We ended up being best of friends. Problem is that me and my coworker started driving me crazy by playing practical jokes on me ALL THE TIME. One time in particular, he unplugged my phone and hid the end of it so I wouldn’t know it was unplugged. Up until that point I tried to ignore him, but that was the last straw. I decided to get back at him. One day, there were some balloons in his cube. I didn’t know he was deathly afraid of hearing popping balloons. The guy who sat directly next to him in another cubicle warned me not to do it. Didn’t exactly tell me why and even had he told me, I’m sure I would have done it anyway. Soooo, when he least expected it, I popped the balloon, which sent him through the roof. To this day, (this happened in the mid 90s) I still think it was funny as hell. To this day, I’m sure he does not. He followed me to my cube and started yelling at me. Loudly. At first I was just laughing, but he was so serious. Then he told me if I were I guy, he’d meet me outside and punch my lights out. I still thought it was funny though. But the scene was getting out of hand so I elected to leave my cube. But then I thought, “hey, this is my cube!” And I told him to get out instead. The big baby then called his wife to tell on me. He even told our admin (we were all good friends and she told us both to cool it although she though it was funny as hell too, lol!) Later his wife called me and said she was on my side cause she knew how he could be. Later he came back and apologized to me, lol. It all worked out in the end, but I’d never do that again. To this day, we’re all still really good friends. I still think it’s funny and he doesn’t. ***shrugs***

    Problem with people who like to play jokes is that they can’t take it when the tables are turned. If you can’t stand the heat, don’t play in the kitchen.

    I think the guy’s response was totally out of line. Period. Had my coworker/friend put a hand on me AND threatened me taboot, you better believe, this would have had a different outcome. If you’re a jokester, then someone might take their joke on you to a place that might play on your fear or whatever. Who the hell is supposed to know what that line is? I sure don’t, so that’s why I hate practical jokes and don’t play them on other folks cause I can’t take them. My reactions are not good. Plus, most people don’t really know what other people’s tolerances are. At work, I think practical jokes always have the potential to go badly. Don’t start none, won’t be none is my mantra, and I’m sticking to it.

    @the OP, are you a woman. For some reason, I get the impression that you’re a female. If you are, I’ll leave you with this final thought.
    Men who threaten women are simply big bullies. Wonder if the person had been bigger and tougher looking them him, if he’d have yanked them around like that and threatened him. I highly doubt it.

    Damn his reaction to that balloon pop was funny as HELL!

    1. Jamie*

      I am not sitting in any kind of judgement, but as someone with a ridiculous startle reflex I can only pray my coworkers never read this post.

      I’d go down like a fainting goat. I startle out of my chair when someone stands in my doorway and clears their throat to get my attention.

      That said – if it was done to me and I had pranked first…after my heart rate went back to normal I’d have found it funny.

      (You’d think that since he was such a prankster and knew his own issue with the balloons he wouldn’t have had them around. My family cannot resist an surprise balloon pop – it may be how they are planning to kill me.)

      1. jmkenrick*

        I shriek if started. Balloon popping behind my head when I’m not expecting it will elicit a loud screech.

        It’s both embarrassing, and involuntary.

        1. Jessa*

          And in my case I have a bad back, you startle me like that and I tense up, and you end up having to send me home from work because of the pain. I had a boss that it took me finally going to HR and explaining “do you want me on intermittent FMLA here? tell him to STOP touching me from behind. I can’t hear him and if it causes a back spasm I’m off for the day. Want me to try and make a worker’s comp out of it? Your supervisor CAUSED it.” Because he could not train himself out of coming up behind people and touching them. I swear I was ready to get a nerf bat and whomp him the next time he did that to me. Because we had no sick pay. And me having to leave early meant I lost money.

          Again completely involuntary motion of my body. People need to stop doing this to other people.

          1. Jamie*

            I would be the last person to encourage popping of balloons in any circumstance – but assuming you don’t (as I don’t) go around pranking people we should be immune from anything like this – because as non-pranksters we haven’t given anyone any indication that this is okay.

            In this instance he was constantly pranking her, he did it so often she finally retaliated. Someone who pranks people that much doesn’t have the moral high ground we would have.

            If you dish it out so copiously at some point someone is going to dish it back, he was taking a calculated risks no lost.

            But to your point, I would actually have been pissed as an innocent bystander because it would have startled the hell out of me.

    2. Bea W*

      To this day, (this happened in the mid 90s) I still think it was funny as hell. To this day, I’m sure he does not.

      It’s not. Anything that causes another person that level of distress, even done with the intention of jest, it’s not funny. Causing someone else distress and pain and fear – there’s nothing funny about that. At best it’s kind of jerky. At worst, it’s just plain cruel.

      1. Nanayana*

        I agree, but I’ll tell you he never pranked me again. Sometimes payack is a bish ya know?

    3. Journal editor and children's literature scholar (fposte)*

      You sound like a rather reluctantly reformed prankster to me :-).

      1. Nanayana*

        The only other time that I pulled a prank was when I was about 11 and my sister was nine. I got home from school before she did and was upstairs. I decided to hide. I could hear here down stairs, calling my name, in a light hearted voice, saying “where are you” over and over again. Then I could here her parting the beads and coming upstairs. All the while, I’m hiding in the closet in my bedroom. I could hear here opening and closing doors going from room to room. Finally, she opened the door to my hiding place. She truely did not expect me to be there. My “BOO” which was meant to be a fun scare absolutely terrified her. She sucked in her breath and her eyes opened so wide. She would breathe and the huge tears rolled down her face. Then I got really scared and started telling her to breathe. I started hugging her really tight telling her over and over that I was sorry. Shoot i started crying too
        The thought of my baby sister being that scared totally broke my heart. So to this day, other than the balloon pop, I’ve never pulled a prank on anyone. My coworker pushed me to it, but, if I had known the degree of his fear, perhaps I’d have reconsidered my method of payback. What I really wanted was for him to stop playing his relentless jokes. The balloon pop got his attention and made him stop. So in the end it was worth it to me.

        1. Kiwi*

          You earlier wrote that your colleague advised that you NOT pop the balloon and that you probably WOULD have anyway had you be aware of the fear.
          You should either own your prank or apologise for it.

          1. Nanayana*

            I own it, never said I didn’t, and I have no guilt about it. NONE. And yep, I’m rather on the fence about whether I’d do it again under the circumstances that he wouldn’t leave me the hell alone when I asked him to stop repeatedly for months. The whole reason he had the balloon pop fear in the first place is because his own sister found it to be the only way to retaliate against his constant pranks on her when they were growing up. He wasn’t born with the dang fear, it came about gradually as a consequence of his own actions. Too bad, so sad for him.

            See the problem as I see it here is that folks responding in his defenseone thinks he shouldn’t have to own up to creating the situation in the first place. Had he stopped pranking me, I’d never have considered doing ANYTHING to him. I’ll never be sorry that I did it. Nope never. He started the torture first and I finished it.

            If that makes me a big meanie, I’ll embrace that too.

    4. Seriously?*

      That is a really horrible thing to do, especially since you were told not to do it. Many people who were victims of shootings or other violent crimes (or were veterans in war zones) have PTSD and the sound of anything resembling gunshots can trigger terrible reactions. You’re extremely lucky that he wasn’t one of them. How on earth can you *still* think that this is funny? It’s just mean.

      1. bullyfree*

        For those of us who have PTSD, we have no control over when, where and how we are triggered. We can only be proactive then try to, manage symptoms. Knowing sudden loud noises can trigger my PTSD, I would not have a balloon in my cube. I am not saying the guy has PTSD but he did have a boundary that he expressed to some people at least. Nanayana,would you still pop a balloon around him today, think it was funny, and call him a big baby if he had an angry reaction again ?

        1. Bea W*

          But who thinks “Oh I shouldn’t have a balloon here because someone is going to come along and pop it?” Unless you are in a balloon popping office, it’s not something that pops to the tops of one’s head.

      2. Nanayana*

        Probably because of all the relentless ish he did to me before I finally retaliated. It took MONTHS before I finally decided to get back at him. Plus I had no idea that he would react that badly. Ive seen people be startled, but never go to the extreme of wanting to be violent. My other coworker just said “I would do that if I were you,” and laughed it off. So I laughed it off and decided to do it any way. Knowing what I know now, MAYBE I wouldnt do it. MAYBE. That said, again, I’m, a firm believer of what we used to say as kids, “Dont start none, wont be none.” Childish but true.

        1. Nanayana*

          And also Bullyfree, seriously, I’m gonna take it that you dont go around relentless terrorizing people with practicle joke. The more I asked him to stop, the bigger kick he got out of pulling more pranks on me. Anyone who cant control that type of behavior is bound to on met his match. Well he met me and unfortunately for him, I found his Achilles heel. Oh well.

    5. Sophia*

      Oh Wow…. So one time my company hired someone to do a training/all staff pep talk.

      It involved blowing all your “stresses” one at a time into a balloon.

      Two of us had to leave the room. I’m not that big of a baby but… really? Being surrounded by balloons about to pop is supposed to make feel less stressed??????

  48. Bea W*

    I have barely skimmed the first comments, but I’m going to toss my 2 cents in, mostly because I have a meeting to run to in 20 minutes.

    I think these two need to apologize to each other, OP for the prank and her co-worker for grabbing her and threatening her. Both of these things are not okay, and I totally agree with Alison that since the OP was the instigator, she should really make the first move, assuming he hasn’t approached her since. They both screwed up. She didn’t mean to harm him or freak him out, and he probably didn’t mean to harm her either but was caught in the heat of the moment (I hope this is the case!). He’s new. They really don’t know each other. The best outcome here would be both apologizing and agreeing to move on.

    OP – consider this a lesson learned. Only prank people you know very well and have a good and strong enough relationship with that they will get the prank and/or be more forgiving if it doesn’t go over so well, and make it funny. Locking someone out right at the start of a meeting with client – not funny. Even if the target brushes it off, the clients might not be so impressed. That goes way beyond saran wrapping a cubicle or putting someone’s keyboard in jello.

    When I read this I immediately thought of a former co-worker who thought it would be funny to lock the bump the new woman (they both worked reception) in the supply cabinet (not even a standup closet). She thought it was hilarious, but it was really awful. The new woman, college age and new to town, was in tears. It’s not funny unless the other person gets the joke too.

    I can’t imagine locking people in or out anywhere would be funny – but that might be my PTSD talking, and yes 20 years ago my instant reaction would have been to haul off and punch someone without even realizing what I was doing until it was too late. BTDT.

  49. CEMgr*

    Just wanted to note that that “prank” in question would qualify as actionable false imprisonment, subject to both civil and criminal penalties, in any state in the US.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I have a really hard time believing that there’s a police officer or a court in the entire country that would take an attempt to bring legal action over this seriously.

      1. Jamie*

        I’ll add that having known a cop or two, I cannot imagine any that wouldn’t lecture whomever called about this about wasting the time of the PD.

        Technically whomever took my bottle of water with my name on it from the office fridge is guilty of theft – but I couldn’t get a cop to write paper on that one either.

        1. Anon 1*

          Technically grabbing a bottle of water isn’t automatically theft. Theft is a specific intent crime. If you don’t have the requisite intent, no crime. Sorry for the nit picky pain in the ass response, I just couldn’t help myself.

          Although I think my nit picking illustrates that jumping to conclusions of legality/illegality with only a paragraph of explanation from a very one-sided view isn’t very productive. If something is obviously illegal, such as not paying someone for work, then yes discuss and give resources to help. But if something requires delving into hypotheticals and trying to determine what the damages are, this is better left to an in person discussion with an attorney.

        2. CEMgr*

          Agree that coworker to coworker false imprisonment, if of very short duration (< 5 min?) and without other aggravation, is probably not a priority for most LE agencies. OTOH, if you want to really test the limits, try falsely imprisoning the cop (who's at your workplace to take the report) under the same conditions and learn how seriously it's viewed.

          If there is a pattern of harassment, this episode would definitely qualify as a "good one" in an application for a civil restraining order.

          I personally have never endured any form of false imprisonment as an adult, and/but I would not take it well.

      2. Cara*

        Without putting words on CEMgr’s keyboard, I don’t think the point is that it would actually go to trial. The point is that a lot of people, including you, are saying that the coworker way overreacted to a “prank.” It’s not just a prank, it’s an actual crime–a personal one, that affects the person directly and intimately, rather than a property crime like stealing a bottle of water. Maybe if people looked at it that way they’d understand why others might feel the OP’s actions were pretty serious.

        My reaction to the OP’s letter is colored by the fact that I wouldn’t think it was a huge deal if someone grabbed me by the arm in a room full of people. I’d be shaken, yeah, and embarrassed. But I wouldn’t be absolutely *freaking the hell out* the way I would if someone locked me on a balcony. And there are probably people who feel the exact opposite — the balcony-locking isn’t a huge deal, the arm-grabbing is, and those people probably empathize more with the OP.

        It’s hard not to put ourselves into this scenario and I think that informs how people are responding. I know it’s informing my reaction. I don’t think the coworker overreacted. I don’t think he acted appropriately, certainly, but I don’t think that if I’d just been locked on a balcony and left to find my own way out I’d be able to control my fear, anxiety, and anger.

        1. fposte*

          If a lesser response to something that could be an actual crime is problematic, that has to go for the lesser response to the grabbing of the prankster as well as the initial prank, though.
          And as you’ve suggested yourself upthread, it doesn’t matter why you grab the prankster–the grabber pays.

          1. Cara*

            As I said, I don’t think the co-worker acted appropriately. He should not have grabbed and threatened. But his doing so doesn’t exonerate the OP, who instigated all this.

            1. fposte*

              Right–what I’m rejecting is the either/or, where one’s a villain and one’s a saint. The OP blew it, and the co-worker responded poorly. Neither of them committed anything that would be a crime anywhere other than a classroom or blog, and both of them did things that could have really upset the people they were doing it to.

    2. fposte*

      It meets the terms, sure. But those terms are created for specific kinds of situations that this really doesn’t apply to, and it’s highly unlikely that anybody would prevail or find a DA to have the slightest interest. And, as pointed out above, the co-worker’s response would count as assault, which is also subject to both civil and criminal penalties, and which wouldn’t be classified as self-defense in this situation, so the law doesn’t really give the edge to either of ’em.

      1. Anon 1*

        The co-workers response would count as battery. Battery equals touching, assault equals apprehension of imminent harm. Future threats of harm equals nothing. You could bring a civil suit but it would likely result in nominal damages meaning it would cost more than you would get. Situations like these equals great hypos for first year torts and not much for real world applications.

        1. fposte*

          Right, the de facto law, if you’ll pardon the paradoxical locution, really doesn’t give a damn about what either of these people did. There’s no damages, no injury, no repeated behaviors–it therefore really doesn’t matter that they both may technically fit a legally prohibited activity.

  50. Chris*

    I think pranks at work are fine, BUT. BUT. They should never, ever inconvenience or impact the work of a colleague.

    For instance, one of my coworkers had a problem with squirrels in her attic (not a euphemism). So we rigged her cabinet so a little stuffed squirrel would fall on her. She thought it was hilarious. Quick, small, a clear joke. Done and done.

    If you are doing a prank TO someone… that’s a bit much. A prank should be funny. There should be a joke element to it. Locking someone on the balcony before a meeting?… uh, no. It’s not funny at all. I don’t mean it’s offensive or anything, it literally is not a joke. There is nothing to inspire amusement there.

    That said, I do think the colleague was out of line. The tipping point for me is that he drew you aside (whether forcefully or not) and THEN said it. If he had stormed up and said “do that kind of s*** again, and I’ll kick your a**” I would say that’s justified a BIT. It’s an instant reaction, an expression of justified anger. The delay involved in getting you out of earshot, etc, makes it less knee-jerk, and more genuinely hostile. I don’t think you should be worried, per se, but I would judge that by his reaction to your apology.

    Apologize sincerely (and it really does sound like you’re completely sincere), and move on. In future, consider the fact that a prank, particularly at work, should be amusing for everyone, especially the target. It shouldn’t be embarrassing, painful, or have an effect on their work. And NEVER do ANYTHING when clients or customers are around.

  51. Betsy*

    One of the things I find most interesting about this conversation is the really sharp divide between people who really hate pranks and those who think they’re fun. I do think a lot of that for me comes down to past experience — I mentioned above that I can imagine a fight-or-flight reaction from this, because I’ve been there. Pranking was a real form of bullying against me growing up, and it’s hard to unlearn those reactions.

    I can 100% guarantee that if I were the coworker, I’d have been panicked within about 30 seconds of being locked in, not because of heights, but because I’d be picturing horrifying consequences to my career for missing the meeting and having to admit I was trapped on the balcony. I’d be imagining being the office joke, and trying not to cry, and considering whether I’d be able to climb down without hurting myself. When I got out, I’d be a wreck and desperately trying not to show it, and pushed closer to tears by the knowledge that I was expected to keep interacting with clients.

    I’d be convinced the pranker was deliberately doing this to me to hurt me.

    Now, I don’t think the OP was trying to hurt the coworker. But a lot of the talk here about pranks seems to suggest that the prankster’s fun in tricking someone is worth the risk of setting off a reaction like mine from time to time, which in complete honesty has me near tears just thinking about it.

    Yes. I am over sensitive when it comes to pranks. But that won’t interfere with my ability to do my job well as long as people don’t play them on me. And people saying to be less sensitive feels like saying “Don’t put your uncomfortable negative emotions out in front of me where they’ll get in the way of my lulz.”

    1. Cat*

      I think this is a mischaracterization of the conversation. Almost nobody in this thread has said that locking someone on the balcony at work is okay in any way, shape, or form. Some people have said that there are some pranks that can be okay when done at work in certain circumstances. (Pranks that are nothing like locking someone on a balcony). That is the opposite of a sharp divide, in my opinion.

      1. Betsy*

        I wasn’t saying there was a sharp divide between people who thought this was an okay prank and people who thought it wasn’t. I said “between people who really hate pranks and those who think they’re fun.” Both sides in this conversation seem defensive of their perspective. Some people feel that pranks should never be allowed and some people feel that to disallow them would ruin the workplace dynamic. I stand by my characterization of that as a divide.

        1. Cat*

          Eh, I guess if you’re going to make it at the absolutely broadest level possible. But I haven’t seen any person in this thread say “pranks are okay full stop. ” I don’t think there’s really that sharp a divide between “pranks are never okay*” and “prank can be okay in certain circumstances if certain guidelines are followed.”

          * And really? Ever? Anything that could even be broadly classified as a prank? Like the cute fake Google products on April Fools Day are awful?

        2. Jamie*

          A similar comment was made up thread and I’m genuinely curious as to where you’re seeing that?

          Everyone, including the OP, has categorically come down on the side of this being a crappy thing to do and he owes the coworker an apology.

          The overarching debate, as I read it, is between those who think it rose to the level of excusing the response of the coworker and those who think he is accountable also. And whether intent matters in things like this.

          And fwiw I think pranks are beyond stupid, but I don’t think that excuses an adult from being responsible for his actions.

          I’m really sorry you went through what you did as a kid. It breaks my heart to know that happens and to know that people carry that with them throughout their lives. Everyone has views shaped by our experiences, for good or bad, which is why what you shared brings up such an important point.

          People at work who don’t know each other well enough to have a handle on how the other deals with things like this need to stick with friendly civility and business manners…personal jokes and pranks (if both people like them, I don’t get it, personally) need more familiarity than most co-workers share.

          1. Betsy*

            It’s possible that I’m giving the comments more prominence than they actually have because of my emotional reaction to them, but there have absolutely been multiple people suggesting that people who don’t like pranks are serious to the point of humorlessness, or responding to statements that pranks don’t belong in the workplace by saying it lightens the mood or makes the place more fun.

            My issue is that every prankster probably believes their pranks will be well received, until they’re not. And I think there are a lot of people here saying pranks aren’t well-received by them, and I wonder how many of those types work in those “fun” workplaces and don’t say anything because they don’t want to rock the boat.

  52. SouthernBelle*

    i can’t sympathize with the OP on this one… i once had a supervisor (the head of the department) who was a “prankster”… one day he decided to go in my office while i was at lunch, knock papers and supplies off of my desk so that it scattered tornado style all over, upend my chair, etc…. i came back from lunch, took one look at my office and refused to go in there and do anything until he put everything back like he found it… he maintained that it was “just a joke”… i maintained that he was unbalanced…. and that’s exactly what i reported to hr… this man was at least 30 years older than i was…. he was released within the year…

    pranks do not belong in the office… period…

    1. BCW*

      He was unbalanced? Are you serious? If you want to call him unprofessional, thats one thing (and thats debatable), but unless you are a trained mental health expert, I don’t think thats your call to make

      1. Nanayana*

        I dont know if the guy was unbalanced, but id have been really P.Od. what motivates people to do that type of thing. I dont know about you all, but Ive never had the kind of job where I wasnt incredibly busy managing projects, trying to make deadlines, running from meeting to meeting, etc., etc., etc. Um yeah, I fear my reaction would not have been pretty…

      2. SouthernBelle*

        Yes, i’m very serious…. this wasn’t the first time he had done something (although it was the first time that he had done something that went that far, to me)…. and, while i wasn’t a trained mental health expert at that time, i have the training now and i stand by my previous assessment – unbalanced…

  53. Foreigner living in the U.S.*

    Since I’m not American, I wanted to check Wikipedia for a definition of prank:

    “A practical joke (also known as a prank, gag, jape or shenanigan) is a mischievous trick or joke played on someone, typically causing the victim to experience embarrassment, perplexity, confusion, or discomfort. ”

    “Practical jokes or pranks are generally lighthearted, reversible and non-permanent, and aim to make the victim feel foolish or victimized to a degree, but may also involve cruelty verging on bullying if performed without appropriate finesse.”

    Hmm… In the movie Amelie there were some pretty funny pranks, but I wouldn’t want to be in any side of a prank in a work environment (except for very mild ones that don’t make the victim feel foolish or victimized, as in the example of the tiny miniature versions mentioned earlier in this thread, for someone who clearly would appreciate the effort).

  54. Anonymouse*

    I didn’t see anywhere in the OP’s post that he really felt sorry for harming his coworker – if that’s the case, why didn’t he apologize right away? It sounds like he only felt sorry insofar as he didn’t want to get in trouble or run into issues when reporting the physical violence threats to HR.

    I honestly am not sure why Alison isn’t coming down harder on the pranker. I would probably give a strong warning for this “prank” and possibly fire, especially if the pranker wasn’t the one to let the victim off the balcony.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What do you want, for me to order her chained and flayed? (Sorry, Game of Thrones is on my mind.) She knows she was wrong, and I told her to apologize. It’s really not necessary to beat someone over the head with it.

  55. cecilia*

    Sorry if this sounds humorless, but I think pranking falls outside the bounds of professional behavior and doesn’t belong in the workplace at all. If you think about the universe of possible pranks, probably 80 percent of them are mean-spirited or cause not-funny inconvenience (being scared or trapped, having to clean up a mess, etc.). They distract from work, take up time, and potentially cause real animosity between colleagues, whereas the only benefit is that one or both parties gets a cheap laugh. If pranking is the way you get your jollies, save it for family and friends.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmmm. There are plenty of perfectly professional workplaces where good-natured pranking goes on and isn’t considered out of bounds, so I think this is something that varies from workplace to workplace.

      1. Kat A.*

        I disagree with you, Alison. Pranks do not belong in the workplace at all. Keep in mind that lots if people are afraid to speak up and admit that they didn’t find a prank funny in front of their coworkers for fear of being labeled a buzzkill, overly sensitive or, worse, being targeted for more pranks by office bullies once they sense a potential victim.

        Pranks are design to humor the prankster. The person being pranked doesn’t get a say.

      2. Anon because, well, firing*

        Many years ago, we had a gentleman take two weeks of vacation. When he came back, his coworkers had packed all his belongings in a box, as if he had been fired while away.

        He arrived, the joke was sprung, there were chuckles…and he was RIFfed later that day.

        It was very, very sobering for all of us, those who participated and those who only found out after the fact or who knew but “stayed out of” it. The chief pranksters felt horrible – worse than the guy pranked, I think.

        I think the only prank I’ve participated in since then involved gift-wrapping the entirety of a co-worker’s office while he was away on his honeymoon…and one of the first things he was told after the first shock was that the pranksters WOULD clean up anything he asked us to. He actually kept his lamp and desktop wrapped for quite a while – so I think we got that one more or less right, at least. (We wrapped the desktop with all the vents clear, CD drawers separately wrapped, etc.)

  56. Annie*

    I feel like the advice in the main answer is more waffle-y and permissive than Alison’s responses in some of these comments below. There’s a big difference between “you probably crossed a bit of a line” and “I think you were really out of line…” as posited in the thought experiment above. To me, the main answer also implies that the prankee is humorless and the less professional of the two: “if he’s reasonable” “he really overreacted” “he escalated things” “inappropriate for the workplace” are all phrases that are directed only toward the prankee. Don’t get me wrong – physical and verbal aggression have no place at work, but they were a direct result of a really workplace-inappropriate action from the pranker. It seems kind of analogous to fighting words/who threw the first punch. I wouldn’t have any personal phobias triggered by this prank, but I still think it was a really unkind thing to do and it reflects really poorly on the perpetrator of the prank (who was presumably sober/in control) while the victim’s reaction was likely fueled by adrenaline/panic.

  57. BCW*

    To me, this whole conversation comes down to 2 camps, which I’ve seen quite often on this site. Camp A thinks intent never matters. So if you embarrass, offend, hurt the feelings of, whatever, to someone else, then you are at fault and deserve whatever comes of it. Camp B (which I’m in) believes that people’s intentions play a big part in how things should be interpreted and what the consequences are. In an extreme (but valid) example, its why there is a difference between murder and manslaughter.

    No one is excusing the OPs behavior, but many of us are saying that it was something innocent that went too far. Who among us can’t say that things, even with fun intentions, haven’t gotten out of hand before?

    1. Laura*

      But you can only guess at other people’s intentions. If I don’t know you at all and you behave towards me in a way I interpret as immediately dangerous to my person – why does it become my responsibility to give you the benefit of the doubt no matter what? It’s YOUR responsibility to properly communicate your intent *before* acting, not mine to somehow magically understand what “just a joke” means to you.

      1. BCW*

        Maybe we will disagree, but I don’t think locking someone on a balcony at work is necessarily dangerous to your person. Unless you had no coat and it was below zero, or were in the middle of a lightning storm, there is no inherent danger of being on the balcony for a few minutes longer than you prefer. If there was inherent danger, I assume no one would be on said balcony. I don’t like spiders, and putting a tarantula (real or fake) near me would freak me out. But there is really no inherent danger there, because they aren’t deadly. Also, they have known each other over a year. While they may be best friends, I’d hardly say that falls near the “don’t know you at all” end of the spectrum.

      2. Jamie*

        I don’t think anyone should have to give the benefit of the doubt when in fear but after the fact when intentions come to light it’s not possible, to me, to ignore it when assessing how you feel about the person.

        When I was newish at my job I told the receptionist I was in the plant so no one would lock me out of the front office. She forgot and I got locked out, with my purse and car keys in my office.

        If intent was 100% irrelevant then it wouldn’t matter if the guy who locked the doors had no idea I was back there and it was an accident (as was the case) or if he knew I was back there and did it as a prank leaving me there to have to call the facilities manager back to work to let me in.

        If his intention was to mess with me and keep me from leaving for an extra hour + in an empty factory that would be a fireable offense IMO. But as he had no intention of doing that it was an accident – I’m not going to hold it against him.

        I cannot believe that even the most fervent supporter of the concept of intentions not mattering could argue that the person who makes a mistake and those who act in malice should be judged the same.

        Pranks to me fall into the middle area, not a pure mistake, but there is still a difference in inflicting intentional distress and inadvertently causing it at a failed attempt to be funny.

        But to your point about danger, you’re right and I would give no one the benefit of the doubt before the data is in. If someone jumps out at me from the shadows of what I think is an empty factory because they think it would be funny to scare the jumpy girl, then I would have no guilt whatsoever about whatever my reaction would be if I thought I was being attacked.

        I won’t belabor the point anymore – I just wanted to clarify that for me (and I’m sure others feel this way) feeling like intent matters =/= giving anyone the benefit of the doubt when in fear or being exempt from consequences.

    2. AB Normal*

      “No one is excusing the OPs behavior, but many of us are saying that it was something innocent that went too far. Who among us can’t say that things, even with fun intentions, haven’t gotten out of hand before?”

      I tend to agree with your view, except I can’t see it working on this case.

      How would locking someone “on the balcony during office hours. It was a few minutes before a company function with clients at the office” can possibly be constructed as having “fun intentions”? Fun for whom?

      1. Gilby*

        A question for the OP …how was the ” prank” suppose to end?

        I think you are getting some grief here because you mention nothing about ending the “prank”. You only talk about locking him in and then… your are at the meeting talking to people completely forgetting about the co-worker on the balcony.

        What were you going to do after you locked him out?

    3. Rana*

      I think, though, that there are two problems here. First, intent matters in as far as how we think of the prankster, but it doesn’t undo the damage caused by their actions. Second, good intentions (or at least the intention of being funny rather than mean) can make it possible for the prankster to overlook the possible harm their actions might cause, because who expects a “joke” to backfire?

      So at the very least the prankster is still responsible for harming someone else, even if they didn’t mean to do so.

      And yes, it’s why we have the concept of manslaughter as well as murder – BUT the existence of manslaughter at all as a legal concept constitutes a recognition that reparations and punishment are still needed, even if the crime in question is more one of carelessness than of cruelty.

      I don’t think that the OP is evil or cruel or whatever. I think the OP was careless and negligent, and that the very concept of pranking encourages that sort of carelessness, because it elevates the possibility of humor for the prankster over the possibility of pain for the target.

      Potentially harmful actions – which would otherwise be avoided by a responsible person – happen because they’re viewed as “funny” or “jokes” and that makes it easier to not think about possible negative repercussions. Compare “Oh, I’ll just play a little joke on Bob” with “Oh, I’ll freak Bob out right before an important meeting so he’s all upset when he meets with clients.” Few people would intend the latter, but it’s the former that actually gets carried out because it’s a “joke” or “prank”… and such may, for all purposes, if not intents, have the same effect as the latter.

      1. CEMgr*

        “…the very concept of pranking encourages [the] sort of carelessness…[that]… it elevates the possibility of humor for the prankster over the possibility of pain for the target…”

        Great explanation!

        Let me confess my two lifetime office pranks and I’ll take my lumps accordingly:

        1) Changed someone’s UNIX prompt from “greg%” to “gerg%” while he was away from his desk (I’d accidentally called him “Gerg” in an email)

        2) Snuck in on a Saturday and pasted a “Bush for President 1992” bumper sticker on the office door of a vocal anti-Bush individual (turned out the adhesive was way stronger than I had anticipated and they may have had to repaint the door). He was really angry and I never confessed.

        As I type here, I would never do either of those again. They embarass me. I embarassed me. Foolish, childish acts.

    4. Katie C.*

      I think people tend to give intent more weight than it deserves. If I step on your foot unintentionally, it’s just as painful as if I had intentionally stepped on your foot. Intent is not a magical wand that can be waved to erase the consequences of a person’s actions.

  58. Sara M*

    I’m a big prankster so I know what I’m talking about here. While the other person is totally overreacting… the fact that they had such a reaction indicates that either you don’t know this person well enough to prank them, or that you have poor taste as a prankster.

    If I were in your shoes (which it’s possible I will be some day, though I don’t think I’d ever lock someone on a balcony)–definitely the apology, right away, and assume this is a person with whom you will never repair the relationship (without worrying about whose fault it is; sometimes life is like that). And in the future, please be more careful about your pranking. Make _sure_ the prank is harmless and funny and done on the right person.

    If I had to hazard a guess, I think your prank was probably not a terrible one (though many commenters here seem to think otherwise), but that this was absolutely and totally the wrong person to pull it on. Keep your pranks to your best friends (and make sure you laugh when they get you back).

    1. Jessa*

      And totally the wrong timing. As it appeared that there was no intent of the OP to actually get the person OFF the balcony.

      1. Matt*

        This. I was locked on a balcony some 20 years ago, I was 14 yrs old then, by two “friends” from school (they weren’t really friends, it somehow alternated between friends and bullies …), and they too let me out after just a few minutes, but I really went into a panic attack – after all I didn’t know them well enough to know how far it was between fun and bullying, to me it was well possible at this point that they intended to leave me out there all night (and there weren’t cell phones so that I could call anybody or the police for help). I’m not a violent person at all, but if I had been physically stronger, I don’t know what I had done to them. I literally escaped from this “friend”‘s apartment in tears and full of panic, it was one of the worst days of my life, I still remember it as if it was yesterday. So while he certainly overreacted by threatening physical violence, maybe it really was an “out of control” situation for him. I’d say an apology from both sides is overdue, but more so from you.

      2. Laura*

        I think that’s the biggest thing – the OP just LEFT the prankee there. Who knows how they got out. If the OP had still been in view, or had actually come back after their first laugh at the expense of the prankee, it probably would have been better, though I still wouldn’t be able to understand why it would be funny, at least then they wouldn’t have locked the door and just left. Also I’m not a prankster, and I hate all but the most benign of pranks – like the miniatures someone mentioned , that would be awesome – but don’t most pranksters want to enjoy the results of their prank? Just leaving and going back to work makes it sound less like a prank and more just plain mean

        I think this was a terrible “prank” and I think there are enough people who think so for any prankster to realize this would never be a good idea.

  59. Sara M*

    A chat with my husband makes me see that some people would perceive this particular prank as “designed to hurt someone’s career at work”. I hadn’t thought of it that way, though as I said, I also don’t think I would have locked someone on a balcony, and certainly not before a client meeting. So perhaps try to keep your pranks things that will absolutely not hurt someone’s job, like replacing all their plain post-it notes with Disney princess notes (but making sure to return the original after a short period of laughs).

  60. HR “Gumption”*

    I read through quite a few comments, couldn’t get through them all.

    I’m a funny and fun guy, not Jaime level funny, but give and receive a good joke. Where I do have strong convictions (not quiet phobia level- but close) is professional reputation and timeliness. If I were purposefully locked out from an scheduled client meeting with no idea when I was going to be released, I would literally be furious. And if I was in my Production Manager “Gumption” days and not HR I’d have acted similarly to the prankee. I’m not saying that’s the the right or professional way to react but prankster would have known to never do that again.

    So OP, apologize and brush the reaction off, it was a passionate response to a situation you created. If prankee is mature, he’ll accept and and best case scenario, apologize to you.

    1. TL*

      “prankster would have known to never do that again.”
      Can someone explain this disturbing trend of thinking violence is an appropriate response if you get mad or scared enough? A number of commenters seem to think the manhandling is justified because the Pranker was sufficiently angry, even though there were other, nonviolent routes available to ensure this never happens again.

      I’m of the mindset that physical coercion is only allowable when it is the only choice; violence is not a teaching aid. It’s a tool for when everything else has failed and you fear for a person’s safety if things continue on unaltered.

      1. HR “Gumption”*

        “prankster would have known to never do that again.”

        Where are you getting violence from that statement? Trust me, my steely, unwavering gaze and hushed verbal intensity is more than enough.

        1. Anonsie*

          Because you said similar to the guy in this situation, who grabbed her and threatened her.

          1. HR “Gumption”*

            Clearly I don’t see this the same as you. I refuse to let one time incidents effect how I perceive individuals and the world. Uncomfortable moments (especially those we create) will occur. I think best to refuse intimation and fear to control ones life.

            And on another note, you don’t know me so I could see it not being clear to you, my “Production Manager” era was 20’s and early 30’s and it was a different world than I’m in now in my 40’s (and HR) I was young, aggressive and very effective, truthfully no one would have ever considered locking me out of a meeting an option to take, I would have never been in that situation.

  61. Beti*

    I find this post interesting coming on the heels of the “I dropped a lens cap and my boss threatened to kick my ass” letter. I think the consensus on that was the boss wasn’t serious.

    Wouldn’t it be amusing if the prankee was pranking the OP back with his over-the-top reaction?

    1. Us, Too*

      hilarious. and if that’s the case, I give mad props to the prankee-turned-prankster because even I cannot master a delivery this deadpan.

  62. The Wall Of Creativity*

    I think I’m the first one to say this but I support the prankee on his response. Sometimes the threat if violence is the only way to get the message through to these knuckleheads. I hope the OP’s face went white as a sheet.

    1. Eos*

      I hope someday you react thusly and the person you do it to insists you be charged through the legal system. It’s very ironic to me you say you think a threat of beating someone up is ok but then associate the word knucklehead to the person who didn’t threaten someone’s person. It’s not OK. I don’t know where this idea that being physically violent in the workplace is ok or threatening it is, but it’s not ok. Of the two things, the threats and manhandling are the ones the police would have to take seriously because uttering threats is in some places a crime and has really happened! What is wrong with the people on this thread?! What if the pranker was your child? Would it still be ok that someone might have, with some seriousness, threatened to punch or kick them for a stupid and ill thought out joke?

      1. The Wall Of Creativity*

        If you don’t like violent threats, you don’t do the sort of things that bring them out in people. Lock me out once, shame on you. Lock me out twice, shame on me.

        1. TL*

          People. Are. Responsible. For. Their. Own. Actions. Nobody “makes” you be violent; you choose violence as a response. And, in this case, as in the majority of cases, it is inappropriate.

        2. eos*

          You spilling his drink might bring out violence in some spousial abuse situations. Should the battered woman just try harder next time?!

          1. The Wall Of Creativity*

            I’m assuming that the OP is male.

            Don’t try to make me out to be some sort of wife beater.

        3. EmmBee*

          “If you don’t like violent threats, you don’t do the sort of things that bring them out in people.” Oh, is there a list somewhere handy of things that deserve violence versus things that don’t? Is it a voted-upon list, or is it a decree from on high?

          You are on a slippery slope here. There’s no consensus about what “deserves’ violence and what doesn’t. The jump to domestic violence here is absolutely relevant, and you should think harder about that.

  63. Jaclyn*

    No pranks at work. What? Are we still children in school? Stop giving excuses citing lack of ill-intent and forget trying to predict how the person will react. At work, be nice and do you what you’re paid for.

    Just reading the OP’s letter made me angry. Personally I am claustrophobic and have been trapped in lifts twice. The panic attacks rose up out of nowhere and I thought I would suffocate. If you’ve never had a panic attack, you do not know what it is like. You can’t reason or function and will desperately do anything to get out of that situation.

    I cannot imagine someone, however lacking in ill-intent and in the workplace no less, blocking my escape route on purpose to elicit a laugh.

    Even if the victim was not claustrophobic, it is extremely unprofessional and juvenile. As a working adult, just don’t do it, come on!

  64. Eudora Wealthy*

    It’s not a frat house. It’s a place of work.

    If the OP wants to do the honorable thing, she should apologize to the “prankee” in the presence of their boss and then be the first to leave so that the “prankee” and the boss have the opportunity to talk privately about how unprofessional the OP was.

    If I were the OP’s boss, I’d consider firing her. The workplace is supposed to be a safe place.

    1. eos*

      Sure is, and it’s the OP who’s been assaulted and threatened. Both were unprofessional and neither comes out of this smelling like a rose.

  65. short geologist*

    If your idea of “funny” is to humiliate and/or sabotage a coworker’s work, then I don’t want to have you in my office. Is it a fireable offence? Not the first time…

    I wasn’t ever “bullied” growing up. It’s just that I was small and a little anxious, and I have no poker face, so I had great reactions to things other people did to me. So I was the target of countless, more or less random acts of mild cruelty from age 8 to, oh, early 20s because someone thought it would be funny. Of course it was funny. They had all the power, socially, and if I was offended then it was my fault.

    I have a huge problem with the idea that other people (presumably people with less power, as can be inferred since this is a new employee) exist for the amusement of others. None of the pranks I have ever been subjected to have every made me feel anything other than terrible, because they were intended at my expense.

    The one exception to the above would be toilet papering someone’s house (in the area I grew up). But that’s in the context that everybody involved (including the community at large) understands that it’s an honor and a mark of affection. It was also (at least in the case of the groups I was involved with) easy to opt out and have the group put a symbolic, like 5 feet of TP hanging next to the door.

  66. Kat A.*

    An ex- friend of mine used to play pranks constantly. They weren’t funny to ANYONE she played pranks on. Ever. But she thought they were hysterical.

    The workplace is not a place to play pranks — anytime — but especially when clients are around or expected.

    I dropped my friend because I got tired of her pranks. She also lost jobs because of them and wonders why she has trouble finding good references.

    Perhaps if someone you didn’t know too well locked YOU out on a balcony you wouldn’t find it so funny either.

  67. BCW*

    Every now and then I read posts, and I can just say I’m glad I don’t work with most of you. I’ve had professional jobs for over 10 years, and they have all been fairly laid back places. But man, some of you are just no fun at all. I don’t mean necessarily people who don’t like pranks. But I do mean the people who are all “This is WORK. Do what you are being paid for. Don’t talk to people. No fun allowed. Just work.” Also, I love the fact that anytime a guy does something people don’t like, they are likened to a frat house. Clearly based on some of you, you don’t really know what goes on in a frat house if you think some of these innocent things are that bad. I’m going to go prank my co-workers today and enjoy it because I work in a fun environment, not a miserable place where it seems many of you prefer to be in.

    1. My Scintillating Pseudonym*

      I agree. Sometimes things accidentally go too far or what would normally be a harmless prank hits someone just the wrong way, but that’s life. If you’re in an environment where this kind of thing goes on and it’s bothering you that much, you need to find a better fit. The entire culture shouldn’t have to change for one or two people (unless it’s something big like discrimination).

      And honestly, if there’s enough downtime to write a novel and allegedly not have it affect your work, there should be enough time to change someone’s keyboard input to Farsi.

    2. Anln*

      Yes or no BCW,
      Do you really believe locking someone on a balcony and LEAVING them there especially before a meeting is funny and a great joke to play? Seriously yes or no?.

      Would YOU have been ok trying to get yourself out? Seriously. You would think THAT kind of prank is funny? Potentionally making someone late to a meeting?

      Would you be ok with that or would you be writing AAM and telling her about the person that locked you on a balcony and you were late for a meeting because of a prank played on you.

      The idea of pranking someone isn’t the issue. OK have some
      fun. THIS prank was just wrong. Pranks are suppose have a funny beg and end. Ha ha.. I TP’d Susies cubbie. Not ha ha… I locked Bill out on a balcony… and…. ooops he is still there? Was I suppose to let him out? Phew…. he got out himself…

      Can you explain why is was ok for the prankster to NOT let the guy out? I really want to hear your opinion on THIS prank.

      1. BCW*

        Well, this post was specifically about the people who are saying things like “do what you are paid for, no goofing off ever, etc.”. So in that sense, I don’t think its a valid argument to make. But to answer your question. I would probably find being locked on the balcony funny (assuming it wasn’t really bad weather or something). Potentially being late to a meeting? For me that depends on the real potential, not perceived potential. If it was 20 minutes before a meeting and clearly people would be walking by, I probably would still find it funny. If it was in a more secluded area and 5 minutes before? Probably wouldn’t find it as funny. I’m also someone who doesn’t get really stressed before meetings, so I’d be fine. I do understand some people need a decent amount of time to mentally prepare, so for them, I understand the anger. However, I can pretty much guarantee that I wouldn’t have threatened someone afterwards.

    3. KellyK*

      I don’t think anybody is saying “No fun allowed” or “Don’t talk to your coworkers.” But the first purpose of work has to be to get your job done, and pranks that interfere with that (like making someone late for an important meeting or messing up their planning for that meeting) aren’t appropriate.

      The secret to a good prank is that the person being pranked finds it funny too. I remember a few good pranks in my office—there was the ridiculous singing fish that kept appearing in random places. Then there was the time the multimedia guys covered their boss’s office with post-it notes labeling everything like a post-it on her chair that said “chair”) to make it “508 compliant”. (The 508 thing is probably only funny if you’ve worked in website or courseware development, but the office full of yellow sticky notes was amusing either way.)

      Locking someone out on the balcony before a big meeting is a lousy prank. It takes no effort, it’s not silly or funny, and it has the potential to screw up their work. Covering their desk with origami swans or hanging their stapler from the ceiling while they’re in the meeting would be a lot funnier.

      1. Rana*

        This. I’m all for mutual jokes that contribute to a positive, friendly atmosphere and a feeling of mutual connection.

        But pranks, at least of the sort described by the OP, are all one way, and aren’t about mutuality and friendliness, but about having fun at another person’s expense. That’s not a good thing – it’s just not.

    4. Randomosity*

      Believe me, I’m thrilled I don’t have to work with you, every time I see you comment.

      1. AGirlCalledFriday/Teacher/International Teacher*

        That’s not entirely fair. I’m sure you are a blast to work with, BCW, but surely you can agree that as working adults there needs to be seriousness to work and to the responsibility of working well with others, which probably doesn’t include potentially wasting time/alienating coworkers?

        Don’t get me wrong – I’m a prankster. AND I’m an elementary school teacher, or was until just recently. And at my new job, I’m having to pull back a lot because I’m not working with kids, I’m working with adults. And that’s the difference. Pranks can be fun, but they are juvenile no matter how you look at it. If it’s ok to be juvenile where you work, then great, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s immature. I love to be immature when I can get away with it, but for me – as for most people – its not an accepted practice where you work.

      2. BCW*

        You know, thats fine. There can be 2 good people who just don’t work well together. I’ve been lucky enough in my life to mostly find office cultures that I fit in well with. Those cultures may be torture for you. But I can assure you, my professionalism has never been brought up as a problem, by co-workers or management. I don’t know what makes you think I’d be so bad to work with from my comments. What is fairly consistent is that I believe that people should mind their own business in most situations, I think intent does matter, and I don’t think everything is a racist/sexist situation. I don’t know how that makes me a bad co-worker. But believe what you like

        1. AGirlCalledFriday*

          I agree that it’s all about culture, which is why it is so important to make sure that it’s the right fit when applying for a job.

    5. EmmBee*


      I don’t love pranks, and this wasn’t a particularly funny one, but I am bewildered at some of the reactions here.

  68. AGirlCalledFriday*

    I’m going to have to agree with those who are disappointed by the advice here, in that I don’t believe you came down hard enough on the OP.

    Yes, I think sometimes pranks can be funny. Yes, I understand that there was no intention to hurt. Yes, I also get that when someone writes in, ESPECIALLY owning that they made a mistake, we don’t want to alienate said person and pile on.

    We have a person who, as a joke, locked a person they didn’t know well and didn’t have a bantering relationship with, on a balcony before a client meeting and left them there.

    If I were managing this person, I’d be absolutely horrified. If this were a friend or a family member, I’d be equally horrified. It’s possible that a person could have gotten really hurt. It’s possible that clients could have seen such behavior and it could have been professionally damaging. It’s possible that this person could have been reprimanded/lost an important business contact/damaged relationships with clients by not being there. This isn’t coming to your desk and finding a jacket missing, tiny furniture, or your stapler in jello. This is something else entirely, and I think it was possible to acknowledge that the OP is sorry and knows a mistake, while still impressing on him/her what a bad mistake it really was.

    I strongly believe that the other person’s reaction was out of line, that no matter what, you NEVER retaliate in that way, but that doesn’t negate that the advice to the OP should be dismissive of how terrible an idea this was.

  69. PucksMuse*

    You don’t get to provoke someone into a response and then criticize the response. Next time, act like a grown up and keep your pranks to yourself.

    1. Eos*

      When the response is threats and physical violence yes, you do get to criticize the response. You don’t get to criticize the person being upset if the prank upset them, but you do get to insist they not touch you when the touch isn’t wanted and you do get to say you will not put up with being threatened over it in the workplace. End of, no exceptions to the rule. If you want to call what the pranker did bullying the threats of violence fit the bill as well.

      1. Eudora Wealthy*

        @Eos: I think perhaps you fail to understand the extent to which so many commenters believe the OP’s “prank” was itself a threatening, violent act. Yes, grabbing someone’s arm with your hand can be violent, but violence also includes interaction in which there is no contact (e.g., if I point a gun at your head, but I don’t actually touch you). The OP’s “prank” was illegal and violent. It seems that people who have been trapped by passive-aggressive abusers are more sensitive to this.

        “Hey, I only locked you in the closet for ten minutes. What’s the big deal?”

        It’s a big deal.

        I am very sympathetic to the victim’s spontaneous act of self-preservation in this case.

        1. eos*

          Two wrongs do not make a right and violence does not justify more of the same. There is nothing in the information given which excuses the physical violence. The person was back inside. There was no self preservation. There might have been justified anger but no self preservation. He was safely inside the building and he needs to learn to control himself in angry/upsetting situations. This is not justifiable.

    2. TL*

      I can act inappropriately and still expect the person to respond in a mature, adult, appropriate-for-the-workplace way.

      Look, if the OP was like, “Person needs to lighten up! It was funny! God, I did nothing wrong!” then I would be all over OP saying “no, people can have different senses of humor, stressers, phobias, ect…” But the OP isn’t saying that; they know they’re in the wrong here.

      OP can still expect Prankee to act appropriately in the workplace while expressing their displeasure with the OP’s behavior. Prankee does not have to like what OP did, but he is not entitled to express that displeasure however he likes. He is only entitled to express it in a mature, workplace-appropriate manner.

      1. PucksMuse*

        But the OP behaved inappropriately in the workplace, how does he have the right to expect mature, workplace appropriate behavior in response to immature, inappropriate behavior?

        1. TL*

          Because the expectation is that adults act like adults, regardless of how other people are acting.
          You don’t get to act immature because someone else is doing it; there are mature ways to handle immature behavior and part of being an adult is learning to act like an adult regardless of other people’s behavior.

  70. Serin*

    I hope that everyone who’s saying, “I’m shocked at how many people here have a violent aversion to being the object of a prank” will remember this conversation the next time they’re considering playing one. (Including our hostess, whom I normally agree with about everything.)

  71. VintageLydia USA*

    “…but I pulled the prank because another coworker (who he’s known for many years) was laughing along with me. So I figured he’d just laugh it off. But she hadn’t realized that I locked the door and later mentioned that she would have told me not to lock the door.”

    This is where I get confused. What did the coworker think was the prank if it wasn’t locking him out on the balcony? Something else must of preceded (did the OP somehow force or trick him onto the balcony?) It makes me suspect that there is more to the story that the OP isn’t revealing. Along with the fact it appeared the OP didn’t appear to intend to release the prankee before the meeting makes me think this prank was a bit more mean spirited than she let on.

  72. Tinker*

    I’m wondering if some of the disparity here is due to different assumptions about work environments. I was thinking about this issue last night, and I think some of the places I’ve worked at might have fired one or both of the involved parties here. The threat-making being a thing, obviously, but also that a prank involving locking someone in an area might be considered a willful and serious safety violation, and that’s something that can be a firing offense.

    Obviously office environments are different, and there’s a difference between locking someone on like a second-story balcony in a city and locking someone in a non-climate-controlled portable building on a sprawling complex with dodgy cell phone service, for instance, but even office environments can have the sort of safety culture where that sort of thing isn’t tolerated.

    I’ve been at meeting with railroaders, for instance, where the cultural standard is that you hold a safety briefing before every activity inclusive of giving PowerPoint presentations in an office building — identifying potential hazards, pointing out evacuation routes, identifying people with CPR training, etc. So it’s not necessarily even so that being an accountant in an office means that this sort of high-risk industrial work safety attitude, which can be quite intolerant of pranking, doesn’t apply.

    It could be that part of the differential reaction here is that some people are coming from industries and companies where common practices and acceptable behavior are substantially different from others.

  73. Not this time*

    You know, I try very hard to be sensitive to what is and isn’t okay for other people. I ask even relatives if it’s okay to touch their bellies when they’re pregnant, I try not to tease unless I know it’s okay, but man, there are so many delicate and fragile flowers on this post I have to wonder how any of you get by in the world.

    Here’s the thing. People can only be sensitive to your needs up to a point. After that, it’s up to you to figure out how to make it in a world full of diverse people. It’s not actually my responsibility to make sure you’re okay all the time because I need to deal with my own issues and making sure I’m doing all right.

    1. Anonymous*

      I mostly agree with you, but it kind of sounds like you just realized that phobias are inconvenient. Yep. They’re a pain in the ass. You wouldn’t get diagnosed with one if it didn’t affect your life.

      I absolutely agree with your second paragraph. I think locking somebody on a balcony when they need to go to a meeting is obviously not a great idea, but when it comes to other examples given on this post, there is only so much you can predict and only so much you can do to take care of other people. Being basically kind is the best anyone can do.

      1. Jessa*

        It’s really simple though, pranks are not necessary. Just don’t DO them and you won’t have to worry about someone overreacting to one.

    2. Jessa*

      That’s fine when you’re interacting normally. But pranks are not normal interactions. You have to be PARTICULARLY careful if you’re doing something out of the norm, or to someone from a different culture, etc. When you step out of normal business behaviour, you have a higher standard of making sure the other person is okay with it.

      1. Laura*

        Agreed. I’ve gotten by in life just fine without anyone locking on a balcony. I actually can’t think of a time anyone pulled a prank on me, so it’s certainly not part of my normal interactions

    3. EmmBee*

      THIS. Thank you.

      People, the world is triggering. It’s not up to me to be responsible for what will or won’t set you off. You’re an adult; handle your stuff.

      Disclaimer: this was a crappy prank, and I don’t like pranks at all. But sheesh. Threatening violence is not okay.

  74. JBolivar92*

    I’ve been thinking about this letter since I read it yesterday. The coworker felt threatened in some way, and lashed out at the OP. By taking away his control (he couldn’t leave the balcony, the meeting was minutes away), she caused him to panic/get angry. He doesn’t even have to have some pre-condition to make being locked out a cause for alarm – I believe being prevented from leaving/kept somewhere against your will would have most people upset. Deliberately locking someone out (or in) is a pretty triggering act, and you don’t know how they will respond. It’s not like he could just go in another door, or go home – he’s trapped on a balcony. Adding to the frustrations, it sounds like the coworker just walked away and left him there-“…he got out a few minutes later” doesn’t sound like “I finally let him out”.

    She seems nonchalant about violating his boundaries, but very defensive of her own. I think there’s too much weight given to the OP’s intent – if your actions cause injury or distress, your intentions aren’t enough of a mitigating factor. She inadvertently mashed someone’s panic button, and learned how people can respond when they feel cornered/threatened. He wasn’t professional in his response, but her prank was totally unprofessional, too.
    Actions have consequences.

  75. This is A Life Threatning Situation For Some People*

    There are medical conditions, for example, people with heart conditions or for example, people like me, people with conditions like systemic lupus which are stress induced. Lupus flares can be fatal for those who have the more serious form of systemic lupus. These attacks can be brought about by these types of things that might seem like “fun pranks” to other people. However, if it triggers a panic reaction in the person being pranked, and as a result the fight or flight response is triggered, and corisol starts flowing through the body, the immune system will fire and a person with systemic lupus may have a massive flare in response, which may land us in the hospital. If it’s severe enough, it can actually kill us.

    Here’s a concrete example of this in action.

    Back when I was still working I had a boss who would occasionally pull what he thought were “fun pranks” along the lines of this: whenever he saw our shadows through the windows of the corner conference room and could tell we were walking along the hallway, he’d lie in wait at the corner of the hallway, and the second we turned the corner, he’d scream “Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” as loudly as he could into our faces. Once I was the target and I was surprised by him screaming into my face, causing me to completely throw my papers into the air. I completely bolted and ran as a result of this. Two days later I was hospitalized with a full on lupus flare as a result of the immense stress, and had to have high dose corticosteroids administered to me through IV to help control the lupus flare which he had induced. I left the company several months later.

    In short, I believe you do not understand that what you see as “just pranks” are not really just that, that there is actual biology behind the corisol response to stress hormones, and that ‘harmless pranks’ are not harmless when the person being pranked feels physical stress or a threat as a result of the prank. This is not speculation, there is medical and scientific evidence of it. You do not know which of your coworkers have medical conditions which could actually endanger their lives as a result of the prank.

    (Of course, there are harmless pranks as well, but the line with those is, is everyone included in on the joke? Does the joke make anyone feel physically threatened?)

    1. bullyfree*

      I am so sorry your boss did that ! I’m glad you lived through it though had to be hospitalized. I have PTSD along with Thyroid and Adrenal issues. I don’t have any heart issues. In one office I worked there were lots of mean pranks pulled,. Once, I returned to my desk after running some paperwork to another office in our large complex and noticed the cap was off of my water bottle. I looked in the bottle and smelled and everything was fine so took a drink. It tasted fine. 20 minutes later, I was extremely nauseated and had a bad headache so left work for a day and a half. Once home, I vomitted..my heart was racing like crazy and I ended up in the ER. I never found out what was put in my water bottle but the pranksters would always talk and joke about what they did to the person who last had my job. They got quite a chuckle when telling me they put Visine eye drops in her tea…..

      1. Sophia*

        Visine eye drops in water can eventually make someone ill to the point of death. This isn’t remotely funny and I would be pressing charges.

        1. giginyc*

          +1. Visine is actually really dangerous when ingested! If this happened to me I’d perceive it as a real threat. Agreed on pressing charges.

  76. LIL*

    To be honest, I could see myself reacting in the exact same way as the OP’s coworker. Granted, I am 5′ tall and look like I’m 16, so no threats of ass-kicking would be likely to be taken seriously. But I’ve been in a high-stress, client facing job where I’d be panicked if I was locked out minutes before going to meet someone. And to find that it was all because of a practical joke, and to see the prank-puller nonchalantly talking with client would piss me off. The coworker did pull him aside instead of confronting him in front of anyone. Should he have threatened violence, no – but I understand where he’s coming from.

    I’d be willing to bet it was a moment of frustration and anger, and that apologizing would smooth things over. If I were the coworker, I’d be embarrassed at how I’d reacted in the heat of the moment and apologize as well. There’s absolutely no reason to jump to the conclusion that this is part of a mental problem, or anger management issue, or that he has a screw loose, unless you’ve seen some pattern of behavior (and judging from the fact that the OP pulled the prank in the first place, I’d guess not).

    When I read the letter all I could think of was a scenario in which the OP did go to his manager, and the coworker ended up getting written up, or even fired. Especially because in this instance, I can see how certain things might be downplayed (intentionally or not) when telling the story to make the coworkers reaction seem hugely out of proportion. To be pranked, react in a totally uncharacteristic way (he could be just a normal guy who was having a bad day, got his buttons pushed, and made an empty threat for the first time in his life) and then severely punished for it would be possibly the worst way this could play out!

  77. giginyc*

    The OP = not funny or appropriate for the workplace, especially before a client meeting. It’s real life, not “The Office.”

    Also, if anyone reacts in a way of threatening violence, maybe they felt they were threatened first. There’s a reason (‘reason’, not ‘justification’) for an extreme reaction as the person who was pranked. Cause/effect.

    Maybe it was a phobia of heights.

    Or what if the pranked person was going to therapy or dealing w/ childhood trauma, like, say, being locked in a closet/locked outside as punishment by an abusive parent/person (or maybe I watch too much Law & Order/CSI type shows) – and their therapist encouraged them to confront perceived traumatic/threatening situations. The click of the lock sound or other trigger could’ve sent them back to that moment. You never know what people are or have gone through.

  78. K.*

    I just wanted to say that every prankster I’ve known always insisted that they can “tell” who can take a joke and who cannot. And they’ve been wrong over and over — yet they don’t even see it. They choose to believe the person was having an off day or must be stressed about something else whenever the prank caused anger and hurt feelings.

    In my experience, regular pranksters are dense but they think they’re real perceptive.

    This one gal, Sarah, played pranks on me relentlessly even though I told her repeatedly point blank to stop. She never accepted her actions as wrong in any way. Instead, she insisted something was wrong with me for not finding it funny when she’d do awful things.

    After I cut off contact with her, she hounded my family. And when my mom admitted that she told Sarah I was getting married after Sarah cornered her in the supermarket, we immediately pulled my engagement announcement from the newspaper before it was published because the last thing I wanted was Sarah showing up and pulling some God-awful prank that would ruin my day and send me to tears (while she admonished me for not having a sense of humor).

    It’s been many years since then and, when I go back home and see old friends, I sometimes get asked if I’m still friends with Sarah. It turns out several of us made efforts to keep her from finding out our wedding plans, and for the same reason — we didn’t want her pulling a prank and knew she would if she was there.

  79. Jennifer Thomas*

    I like your reply here and I thought I’d chime in too. The author of The Five Love Languages and I have done some research on apologies. We found that different people expect to hear one (or more) of five different things in an apology. We wrote “When Sorry Is Not Enough” to help people give more effective apologies at home and at work. In this case, I think that the offended co-worker might also like to receive some amends (a gift card, perhaps) and/or a direct request for his forgiveness. Can anyone relate to this feeling? “Talk is cheap. Show me that you really mean what you are saying.”

  80. PuppyPetter*

    LOL… late to the party here but have to tell you about “Pranks Gone Wrong” and why you really really really need to know how someone will react.
    About 15 years ago I was waiting for my boyfriend in Grand Central Station. I was late and I couldn’t find him anywhere. I had turned around to scan the room and he had come in from a different direction than usual.
    In his great wisdom, he thought it would be “fun” to sneak up behind me (in the middle grand Central Station,at night, when I was already on high alert & stressed), grab me by my waist and give me a kiss.
    Yeah, REALLY BAD idea.
    I hold the rank of 2don Black Belt.
    He nearly lost several important body parts because my first reaction was groin grab, twist, block and knock down.
    Yep… he never tried that again.

  81. Lilian*

    Oh sorry, I think that’s a horrible prank..
    A fun prank is..hiding small balloons in someone’s desk..putting flowers in her bag or wiggling eyes all over her objects, like they stare at her all day.
    Or if it’s a guy, put some funny pictures around his desk, on his screen or something…I dont know.
    This is not a prank… this is just mean and the office isn’t really the place to prank, since people already feel pressured and stressed out…

    I think he overreacted, but I think she crossed the line way too far…stupid joke, shouldn’t have done that at all..

  82. Paula*

    Who in their right mind does things like this to people? Any people but especially coworkers before a client function?? This sound like middle school cr@p. Grow up. Leave people alone. You appear to work in a professional environment so act like it. If you don’t know what that means their are books on the subject and NOWHERE in the books will you find pranking listed under professional behavior. You screwed up. Apologize abjectly to the person you barely know and try very hard to act like an adult from now on. You’re upset about their behavior? I would have walked into the room and announced that I was so sorry to be late but OP had locked me outside and I had to call HR before joining the event. The pranked probably should not have touched you, but you should not have locked a person you barely know out on a balcony. Suck it up and move on. If you go to HR about it you may find yourself in as much or more trouble as the person you pranked. Good grief. When you provoke people intentionally you really shouldn’t complain about their reaction.

  83. Daniel*

    Interesting that a certain group of people think that a person who pulls a childish prank then gets to sit in judgement of how the person reacts.

    You don’t have that right. Period. Don’t want to get a bad, or even violent, reaction? Don’t pull the prank!

    Forceful imprisonment (restricting a person’s movement or trapping them in a small space) is in no way funny. No matter the intention, it is an act of hostility and aggression and humiliation. Whether the victim has a phobia or not, a violent reaction is absolutely an expected outcome. Again, you can’t prank someone then decide you don’t like how they reacted.

  84. Deedee*

    I hate jokes like that with a passion. Your lucky he didn’t throw you off the balcony. I would have had meets with the big boss and take it further….. No offence to you but just because you would have been ok with the joke doesn’t mean he would have.

  85. Toto*

    Why…???? would anyone want to prank someone else? I agree that the pranked person could express freely how he felt! Why…do people feel they should play these jokes on unsuspecting folks to bring about a laugh at their expense, perhaps in front of others….bararic! There are sooo many ways you can generate a good feeling inside someone and why…not do something nice to make your co worker feel good about themselves and inturn you feel good as well for having done the nice deed? Why stoop to make them feel bad, or silly, or guillable or naive at having fallen for your seemingly funny joke..on them? No one can help but feel bad or ridculous when pranked and YOU should really think about your actions…and what could you have done to generate a good heart felt situation where everyone benefits? Think about it1

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